WARF eases stem cell license fees

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Group won’t charge for research; foes say more is needed

The Capitol Times (Madison, WI)

Opponents of stem cell patent and licensing practices by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation praised changes in procedures announced by WARF on Monday, but said that more review and change is needed.

WARF, which holds the basic patents on UW scientist’s James Thomson’s method of isolating and defining human embryonic stem cells, said it was changing policies to increase access and make it easier to move technology forward. But a legal challenge and much criticism preceded the changes.

The new policies will enable companies to sponsor research at an academic or nonprofit institution without a license, regardless of location and regardless of intellectual property rights passing from the research institution to the company.

Companies, though, would still need a license – potentially a six-figure sum – when they want to bring this type of stem cell research into their company’s laboratories or develop a product for the market.

“This is an incentive for companies to pay for research at academic or nonprofit facilities,” Andrew Cohn, a spokesman for WARF, said today.

The foundation also is changing cell transfer provisions in its academic and commercial licensing, allowing easier cost-free cell transfers among researchers.

Additionally, WARF clarified its position with regard to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, stating that as a not-for-profit, grant-making organization, CIRM does not require any license or agreement from WARF to pursue its grant-making policies.

Also, WARF does not expect CIRM to remit any portion of payment that it receives from its grantees to WARF or the WiCell Research Institute, a supporting organization of the UW-Madison that conducts and supports research and hosts the National Stem Cell Bank.

“The announcement today by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation appears to be a major step forward in facilitating the sharing and accessibility of materials that will move stem cell research closer to therapies and cures,” said Dale Carlson, chief communications officer for San Francisco-based CIRM, said Monday evening. “We are interested to hear more details and to review the new licensing policies.”

However, a spokesman for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, Calif., which filed legal challenges to three stem cell patents owned by WARF, leading to a current review by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, said more should be done to loosen patent restrictions.

“This is a clear acknowledgement that their earlier policies were definitely detrimental to stem cell research in the United States, which was a point we made when we filed our request for re-examination,” said John Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

“I see this as WARF admitting that what they were doing before was wrong. But the simplest way for them to clear this up completely would be to acknowledge that these overreaching patents that no other country in the world recognizes are not really valid. They should simply abandon the claim to the patents in question.”

Cohn denied that the patent challenge led to the policy changes.

“That will be decided in the patent office, and will not be affected by anything that is done vis-a-vis our policy,” Cohn said. “We made this decision because we feel it will bring more funding to researchers and bring more companies into the important work of stem cell research.”

Simpson conceded that not charging licensing fees to nonprofit organizations was a step in the right direction.

“I am glad to see they are not trying to get a piece of the revenue that might come back to taxpayers of California if revenue comes from grants out there,” he added.

The WARF policy changes are effective immediately.

WiCell has distributed cells to more than 360 research groups in 40 states and 24 countries, and has trained more than 350 scientists how to work with the cells, according to WARF.

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