The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) has sued Nanjing University and two affiliated research entities, accusing the Chinese school of breeding and reselling progeny of mice acquired from JAX at reduced prices, in violation of their sales agreement.
The Bar Harbor, ME, research institute has asked a federal court to order Nanjing University, its Nanjing Biomedical Research Institute (NBRI), and NBRI’s Nanjing University Model Animal Research Center (MARC) to cease nonresearch, commercial sales of JAX mice.
JAX has also asked the court to direct the parties to resolve the dispute through arbitration—and is also seeking from Nanjing University and its research entities legal fees “and such other relief as the Court may deem just or equitable.”
At issue in the lawsuit is MARC’s purchases from JAX of NOD-scid gamma (NSG™) mice, created by JAX by introducing genetic mutations into its nonobese diabetic (NOD) mice. NSG mice are severely immunodeficient, allowing the introduction and engraftment of human stem cells or other human cells or tissues without triggering a traditional immune response from the mouse’s immune system.
“These immunodeficient NSG™ mice enable research in human immune function, infectious disease, diabetes, oncology, and stem cell biology,” JAX stated.
According to its court complaint, filed September 18 in U.S. District Court in Maine, MARC has purchased NOD mice from Jackson on multiple occasions, including as early as September 27, 2002, and as recently as 2014. MARC had agreed with JAX that the mice it had sold, and their progeny, were to be used for the “sole purpose of conducting internal research.”
“Defendants are selling their 'NCG' mouse—in violation of their contractual relationship with Jackson—at a fraction of the price Jackson charges for its NSG™ mouse, a strategy designed to wrongly capture market share from Jackson,” JAX alleged in its complaint.
141 Strains Offered for Sale
JAX asserted that at least 141 strains of mice that were descendants of mice purchased from Jackson were being offered for sale through NBRI’s website—out of more than 8000 strains of genetically modified mice produced by the institution for research use.
“On a practical level, any purchaser of a breeding pair of mice from Jackson is, theoretically, in possession of all that is required to start his or her own colony of mice for resale in competition with Jackson,” JAX’s complaint added. “Jackson is clear with purchasers of its mice: They cannot breed and resell or distribute for sale any progeny of JAX mice.”
JAX said it had sought to resolve the dispute since last year. After JAX sent MARC a “cease and desist” letter, parent institution NBRI sent a letter stating that it “removed all Jackson Mice from our web pages (both Chinese and English versions) and stopped the sale of Jackson strains until NBRI gets the permission,” according to an April 6, 2016, letter sent to JAX by Jing Zhao, Ph.D., deputy director and chief of NBRI’s animal facility.
“Despite this representation, Nanjing MARC continues to develop and transfer, and NBRI continues to advertise for sale and sell, mice that are clearly the descendants of mice purchased from Jackson for research purposes only,” JAX contended.
JAX said it sent another cease-and-desist letter earlier this year, this time to MARC, on June 22, 2017, with no response—then followed up with a July 13 letter demanding arbitration.
“To date, Nanjing MARC has refused to cease commercial sales of mice descended from Jackson’s originally purchased mice and has refused to arbitrate as agreed,” sparking the lawsuit, JAX said.
According to its website, NBRI is “the only national resource center for mutant mice authorized by the Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China.” NBRI is also the first research center certified by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International in 2006, and has retained that certfication until now.
The case, 1:17-cv-00363-GZS, has been assigned to U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal.