The federal government will re-examine three stem-cell patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, a move that could threaten WARF’s financial windfall from the research and Madison’s prominence in the field.
The patents, based on work by UW-Madison scientist James Thomson, are controlled by WARF, the university’s nonprofit technology transfer arm.
The patents cover virtually all embryonic stem-cell research in the U.S. They apply to embryonic stem cells, the blank- slate cells thought capable of becoming all of the body’s 220 cell types, as well as the methods used to grow them.
The first patent is for stem cells from primates, while the second patent is for stem cells from humans. The third patent involves a new method to grow stem cells without using animal products.
The review was requested by the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which is involved in California’s new $3 billion stem-cell research initiative.
The watchdog group and others involved in the initiative have been sparring with WARF over the patents and associated commercial research license fees to use stem cells. The licenses range from $75,000 to $400,000.
WARF can also earn money through royalties from products.