28 Sep Doyle, WARF announce partnership to lure stem cell companies
Milwaukee, Wis. – In a move designed to give Wisconsin a competitive advantage over other states, Gov. Jim Doyle has announced a partnership agreement with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation guaranteeing all companies that conduct stem cell research at non-profit and academic institutions in Wisconsin a free, non-exclusive research license under the stem cell patents held by WARF.
In what the administration called a landmark agreement, companies will not have to pay royalty fees to WARF for research that would be required if the research was conducted in another state. WARF holds patents and royalty rights on several stem cell lines around the world.
Doyle also announced new state financial incentives that will be used to lure bioscience companies to Wisconsin to help achieve the administration’s goal of capturing 10 percent of the stem cell market by 2015.
Reaction to the announcement came from Republican Congressman Mark Green, Doyle’s opponent in the 2006 gubernatorial election, and from a California consumer watchdog group that is challenging the validity of WARF’s stem cell patents.
The research agreement was announced at Milwaukee County Research Park, which has been having difficulty attracting life-science companies. It is part of a package that includes the following incentives:
• State grants of up to $250,000 for stem cell companies that locate or expand in Wisconsin.
• All licensed companies in Wisconsin would receive free distribution on stem cell lines on which WARF holds patents, and their personnel would be eligible for free stem cell training courses offered by WARF.
• State certification of early-stage stem cell companies as eligible for angel and venture capital investment tax credits.
• New stem cell development specialists in the Wisconsin Entrepreneur’s Network to support companies that start or locate in Wisconsin.
• State assistance to companies with accessing the Wisconsin Angel Network and with identifying incubators with wet lab space.
Doyle believes the agreement will pave the way for thousands of stem cell research jobs in Wisconsin, which he has repeatedly referred to as “birthplace of stem cell research.” One estimate cited by Doyle indicates the market for stem cell products could reach $10 billion over the next 10 years, which would translate into more than 100,000 jobs.
Wisconsin has a biotechnology workforce of 22,000 that generates nearly $7 billion for the economy.
Researchers believe that stem cells, which can become virtually any type of cell in the body, can be used to treat or cure diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Juvenile Diabetes.
“WARF and WiCell are proud to support this initiative to keep Wisconsin at the forefront of this exciting research,” Elizabeth Donley, executive director of WiCell and special counsel to WARF, said in a statement.
The WiCell Research Institute, a subsidiary of WARF, was established to advance the science of stem cells. Its scientific director is University of Wisconsin-Madison professor James Thomson, who first isolated primate and human embryonic stem cells.
Research using human embryonic stem cells is controversial because embryos are destroyed in the process of extracting the stem cells. Adavanced Cell Technology, a California based biotechnology firm, recently announced a technique in which stem cells can be removed without destroying the embryo, but its findings have been called into question.
However, ACT’s discovery prompted Mark Green to propose $25 million in state funding for WiCell to promote methods of stem cell extraction that don’t involve the destruction of embryos. The proposal came after a barrage of criticism from Doyle because Green has opposed measures to expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research beyond cell lines that already existed when President Bush announced his ban on new funding in August of 2001.
With his latest announcement, Doyle appears to be playing a game of stem cell one upsmanship with Green, but a Green campaign spokesman reiterated that his approach is the only way to address the ethical questions associated with stem cell research.
“Mark Green has already announced a plan to invest $25 million in state funds toward stem cell research in Wisconsin,” noted Luke Punzenberger of Green for Wisconsin. “The promising research that he is pursuing would put aside the ethical dilemma that has surrounded embryonic stem cell research.”
The governor’s announcement had ripple effects extending to California, where the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights labeled it an acknowledgement that WARF’s stem cell patents are a roadblock to research.
The foundation has filed a request with the United State Patent and Trademark Office to review the validity of the WARF patents. A spokesman for the FTCR said the agreements will not help move cures to patients because scientists must still get approval from WARF and pay royalties before selling the cures.
“The agreement between Gov. Doyle and WARF is an acknowledgement that the overly broad WARF patents stymie reserach and delay cures,” the FTCR’s Jerry Flanagan said in a statement. “It is absurd that WARF, or any organization, could own the rights to life, itself.”
• Nation’s only stem cell bank will receive UC-San Francisco cell line
• WARF expects review of stem cell patents
• Green unveils $25 million stem cell plan
• Donley has growth plans for stem cell bank
• Tom Still: Fact and friction: Putting election-year stem cell claims under the microscope