Scientists jump into fight over Wis. stem cell patents

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Associated Press

MADISON, WI — Some high-profile scientists have jumped into the fight over the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s stem cell patents, supporting the effort to have them revoked.

The California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and others are challenging patents that cover discoveries by UW researcher Jamie Thomson, who was the first to grow and isolate human embryonic stem cells in 1998.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the university’s research arm, holds the patents covering the cells and research techniques used by many American scientists. Critics say its license fees have stifled the young field.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office said in a preliminary decision in April that it was preparing to throw out the patents because Thomson’s discoveries were obvious given previous research by other scientists.

WARF has said the patents are deserved because Thomson was the first to successfully isolate embryonic stem cells after others repeatedly tried and failed for years.

Competing scientists have jumped into the fray.

Doug Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, said in a declaration released Monday that Thomson’s achievements came from his access to money and materials, not groundbreaking science.

“He deserves recognition because he undertook the arduous and timely task of getting fresh and high quality human embryos to use as starting material in his work and sufficient funding for such research, not because he did anything that was inventive,” Melton wrote.

Declarations from three other scientists also were filed with the patent office Friday and released by the challengers Monday. Those scientists are Chad Cowan of Harvard, Jeanne Loring of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in San Diego, and Alan Trounson of Monash University in Australia.

Thomson benefited from “unique access” to an Israeli scientist who provided human embryos and funding from a biotech firm, they said.

Thomson did not respond to a request for comment on the declarations.

Foundation spokesman Andy Cohn called the new filing “a minor step in a long process” and said he still expected the patents to be upheld.

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