Spring 2005 Vol. 5 No. 1
Stem Cell Research:
Part of the discussion also focused on intellectual property rights. The proposition called for a percentage of royalties from money-making discoveries to be returned to state coffers, which its promoters had argued would offset taxpayer costs. But Ann Hammersla, an intellectual property attorney at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that it will likely be 10 years before any royalties arrive, although California residents may reap other benefits in the meantime, such as job growth.
Of particular interest to the audience were speakers from nonprofit groups affiliated with the University of Wisconsin, Madison. These groups hold patents on several stem cell lines as well as on techniques for harvesting stem cells from human embryos. They allow outside scientists to use these lines and techniques at no charge, but only for research purposes. Because the proposition requires that royalties be shared with the state, however, special agreements will need to be hammered out for California-funded scientists using the patented Wisconsin lines and techniques. California-based Geron Corp. also needs to be part of these discussions since it owns some exclusive rights to therapies developed with the Wisconsin technology.
Workshop participants also discussed the necessity of keeping human embryonic stem cell research funded by a state or private source separate from research funded by the U.S. government, which only allows federal money to be spent on the study of certain pre-existing lines.
R. Alto Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, discussed the prudence of gaining the consent of donors of embryos from which stem cells are to be derived. A National Academies report on responsible stem cell research, expected to be released this spring, will provide further guidance on such issues.
Klein said he expects the new institute to make its first grants this year, an ambitious schedule given the number of issues that workshop participants said need to be tackled. -- Bill Kearney
The workshop was chaired by Ralph J. Cicerone, chancellor of the University of California, Irvine. The workshop was funded by the California Research and Cures Coalition.