Friday, January 06, 2006

Flashback on "those cloning Koreans"

Blast from the past: GoozNews, May 2005:

Those Cloning Koreans

The South Koreans have not only leapt ahead of U.S. scientists in stem cell technology, they're pioneering in how to make that technology affordable.

New York Times reporter James Brooke chased down Dr. Woo Suk Hwang, the South Korean researcher who last week announced a major advance in mass producing stem cells for medical research. While the jury is still out on whether using stem cell colonies to regenerate exhausted or damaged tissues like brain cells or spinal cords will work, Dr. Hwang's advance will expedite experimentation.

Though the right-to-life crowd has limited federal involvement in this promising technology, states are beginning to invest big bucks. California's $3 billion has garnered the most publicity, but New Jersey also recently passed a stem cell initiative; the Massachusetts legislature will probably override its Republican governor's veto; New York is contemplating a major program as are a number of other states who don't want to be left off the next big biotech bonanza. [IPBiz note: no money has been disbursed through the Proposition 71 initiative; it is tied up in the courts. Separately, California voters have now been told not to expect any incoming money from patent royalties (not because of the court action, but simply because those running Prop. 71 don't plan on taxpayer return through patent royalties.]

Using taxpayer money to fund medical research is nothing new, even at the state level. Before the creation of the National Cancer Institute in 1937 (the first National Institute of Health with many more to follow after World War II), state public health departments were major founts of medical innovation.

Now that states are getting back into the game big time, they should read today's story on the South Korean advance to its end. When asked about his financial interest in the breakthrough announced last week, Dr. Hwang called his work "holy, pure and genuine in trying to develop therapeutic technology to cure hard to treat diseases." He said patents on the invention would go to the South Korean government. "I want to be remembered in history as a pure scientist," he said. "I want this technology applied to the whole of mankind." [IPBiz query: have the states been reading about the retraction? The Hwang group seems to have been filing applications through the PCT procedure, so the best bet for seeing what was filed (and who is listed as inventor) is to track WO publications.]

Had he been in the U.S., he would have patented it, started a biotechnology firm, sold the rights to the technology at the highest possible price, and demanded property rights to any subsequent inventions made with the use of his technology -- so-called "reach through" patents. [In the US, the most likely assignee would be the grant recipient (ie, the university), who would be the one doing the licensing.]

As they move to set up the rules for their programs, the states could learn a few things about protecting taxpayers (who finance all this research) from this wise South Korean scientist. IPBiz note: Right now, proposition 71 is doing a good job of fleecing the taxpayers. What we will learn from Professor Hwang is up in the air at the moment, but don't bet on it being good news.

[IPBiz Post 1118]

Also, of more recent note is the blog entry

We have followed Park's odd history for some time - she was by all accounts instrumental in the research, and was hanging out in the Schatten lab when the scandal broke - with Schatten announcing that he suspected that there were issues with egg donation (which anyone from planet Duh might surmise he learned from Park).

And then, you'll recall, she failed to show up at the airport in Seoul to meet the other South Koreans who were all forced to leave Pittsburgh immediately for South Korea, in a rush, immediately after the Schatten announcement and just hours before Seoul National University released a statement implying that Schatten was merely retaliating against Hwang because Schatten SNU would not let him have power, position and money. So SNU and some sketchy government people showed up - apparently, we later learned, bearing a cash bribe as well - to "check on her," with one newspaper in Korea actually stating that they were trying to make sure she didn't steal away with intellectual property from the project

The next step in damage control for nuclear transfer-based stem cell research has nothing to do with Hwang. It's the good guys in the field. My cloning ethics collaborator and pal Ian Wilmut is doing great things, but he and Robert Lanza in particular have gone on somewhat poorly timed media campaigns, to discuss in Wilmut's case how important it is to hurry up and get into clinical trials, and in Lanza's case to suggest that Hwang will slow things down enough to kill thousands.

If part of the problem here is overheated rhetoric about stem cell research, the answer is not only slightly less overheated rhetoric about stem cell research. Let's turn our attention to the question of funding all of stem cell research and use that opportunity to fiat some rock solid rules that any researcher who wants to work or sell products in the US will have to follow.


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