Company Holding Embryonic Stem Cell Research Patent to Reduce Fees

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 29, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Company Holding Embryonic Stem Cell Research Patent to Reduce Fees Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 29
, 2007

Madison, WI ( — The company that holds the patent on most embryonic stem cells announced that it will reduce the fees for scientists and research labs wanting to use the cells in studies. Though advocates of the controversial science say President Bush’s funding limits have put barriers on it, scientists say the fees were the real problem.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation announced at the end of last week that it will waive some of its fees to fuel more embryonic stem cell research.

Under the new policies, some scientists using the patented embryonic stem cells will now be allowed to share them with other researchers at no cost. Also, companies wanting to sponsor the destructive research at universities won’t have to pay as much as $400,000 for licenses.

Brock Reeve, executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, applauded the move in an interview with the Associated Press.

"The notion of reducing fees and sharing cell lines and enabling companies to sponsor research at academic institutions is a good thing and should help push the research forward," he said.

WARF currently holds three patents that it says essentially give it rights over all of the human embryonic stem cells in the U.S. As reported last July, researchers said that was a problem.

Jeanne Loring, who directs human embryonic stem cell research at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in California, told the Contra Costa Times newspaper that the patent dispute is driving some scientists overseas.
"The patents are impeding our research," Loring said. "They’re more important than what’s going on in the Senate right now.

"It is making scientists go overseas to do this sort of research," she added. "It isn’t the funding that’s sending us overseas. It’s the patent issues."

Loring said scientists can easily obtain licenses to work with the embryonic stem cells but the problems would come into play if they ever produced therapies, which none have so far.

WARF’s patents are based on the work of James Thompson, the University of Wisconsin researcher who first isolated embryonic stem cells in 1998.

Two consumer groups filed a lawsuit against WARF last summer seeking to have the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rescind the patents. The suits say the patents are too broad and that scientists who further embryonic stem cell research should get their own specific patents.

Pro-life advocates oppose embryonic stem cell research because the cells can only be obtained by destroying human embryos. They point to the use of adult stem cells as a better alternative because they have already helped patients with at least 70 different diseases and conditions.