The profit motive can--yes, shockingly--drive biotech research. But, according to a report by the AFP news agency, this same drive to make money is actually putting the brakes on embryonic stem cell research. With the research already set back years due to government research bans, U.S. scientists now face roadblocks because other universities or companies have secured exclusive rights.
The AFP report quotes Bob Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology, which is studying human embryonic stem cells in finding cures for blindness, as saying the patent "minefield" is causing patients to suffer.
"When I came to ACT to try to do it with stem cells I couldn't because the rights to use embryonic stem cells for diabetes had been exclusively licensed to Geron," Lanza tells AFP. "Here I was, a scientist trying to cure diabetes and I couldn't use my entire lifetime of expertise to try and develop that technology."
Lanza was referring to Geron Corp., which last year became the first company to start clinical trials of embryonic stem cells in humans. Geron is using them on a patient with spinal cord injuries. ACT plans to use embryonic stem cells in trials on macular degeneration. Lanza is the first to admit, though, that his company, too, has "blocking IP" so it can remain free to pursue its own technology.
The article asserts that this is different from the growing pains of previous IP consolidations in other industries, since it is private companies now, rather than NIH-funded universities and labs at the forefront of this research. And with research increasing in adult stem cells, too, the patent race is on while many scientists fear that innovation will decrease while everybody works behind their own proprietary walls.
- read the AFP article