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Feb 6, 2012

UPenn Cancer Institute's Suit Against Ex-Director Reflects Greater Focus on IP Protection

  • Craig B. Thompson, M.D., president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, has been sued by the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard and Madlyn Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute. In papers filed in December in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the Pennsylvania cancer institute alleges that Dr. Thompson took institute-owned research and used it to start a company.

    The case states that Dr. Thompson used his position as scientific director of the institute from 1999 to 2010 and scientific director of the overall Abramson Cancer Center during the last four of those years to convey “rights and/or interests related to tangible rights and/or interests related to tangible research property and inventions funded in part or in whole by research property and inventions funded in part or in whole by the institute” to a Agios Pharmaceuticals and Celgene. Agios is focused on cancer metabolism therapeutics and was co-founded by Dr. Thompson, while Celgene is a collaboration partner.

    The Leonard and Madlyn Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute alleged that Dr. Thompson failed to comply with his fiduciary and employment duties to it by concealing his involvement with Agios and by not identifying “tangible research property and inventions.” The institute argued that his actions caused damages estimated to exceed $1 billion by depriving it of proceeds that could support future research. “The public interest and the terms of the Institute’s funding to Dr. Thompson mandate that he now be held to account,” the institute stated.

    The university told the Times it is investigating the institute’s allegations and noted that it is not a party to the suit. Neither is Sloan-Kettering.

    Dr. Thompson’s lawyer, Allan J. Arffa, is seeking a dismissal of the case, telling The New York Times: “There’s no real specific allegation here as to what research it is that he either failed to disclose to Penn or that Agios is actually using.” One argument, Arffa told the newspaper, will use is that Dr. Thompson worked for the university, thus giving the cancer institute no standing to sue him. Dr. Thompson has issued his own statement denying the claims.

    To prevail the institute will have to show that its IP was taken as the basis for patents used in the Agios-Celgene collaboration. “If somebody goes out and forms a company and doesn’t take patented intellectual property — only brings knowledge, know-how, that sort of thing — we wouldn’t make any claims to it,” Lita Nelsen, director of MIT’s technology licensing office, told the Times. The institute will also have to pinpoint the IP that Dr. Thompson is alleged to have given Agios-Celgene (no patents were cited in the suit by number) and what it expected of Dr. Thompson as its scientific director.

    Agios and Celgene, which are also co-defendants in the case, announced a three-year strategic collaboration in April 2010 focused on targeting cancer metabolism. Agios was to receive $130 million plus an undisclosed equity investment up front in return for an exclusivity period during which Celgene had the option to develop drugs developed using the companies’ platform. In October, the companies extended their collaboration by another year and Celgene paid Agios another $20 million. Agios received another $78 million from new and existing funding.

     

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    To read the New York Times story, click here.


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