Bay Area Biotech Startup at Odds with Dana-Farber and Novartis Over Cancer Drug Rights

10/28/10

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decision-making” with respect to the Dana-Farber lawsuit and have proceeded with their own personal counsel, rather than the counsel that Chant had chosen. He also alleges that Gatekeeper’s board members have a conflict of interest, in part because three of them work directly for Dana-Farber and the fourth has been a consultant for Novartis. And those conflicts have prevented Gatekeeper’s directors from seeking the types of damages from Dana-Farber and Novartis that Chant believes are in the startup’s best interest, according to his motion, which asks that Chant be allowed to intervene on behalf of Gatekeeper.

Chant’s motion, which you can read in its entirety here, also offers a damning analysis of the relationship between Dana-Farber and Novartis. It alleges that in addition to contributing more than $15 million a year to the cancer institute in exchange for certain licensing rights, “Novartis keeps many of the physicians and researchers at DFCI on its private payroll as consultants and advisors, many of whom receive more in consulting fees from Novartis than they receive in salary from DFCI. As a result of its funding, Novartis is able to dominate much of the decision-making at DFCI, particularly when such decision-making affects the interests of Novartis.” It also charges that Novartis’ claims of rights to the anti-cancer molecule, and Dana-Farber’s ultimate agreement with those claims, violate the Bayh-Dole act, which was crafted to promote commercialization of discoveries arising from federally funded research.

Dana-Farber biological chemist Nathanael Gray, a Gatekeeper co-founder and director, did not reply to a phone message or an e-mail regarding this issue. Gray is one of the lead researchers behind the discovery of the molecule in question. According to Chant’s motion to intervene, Gray and his colleagues discovered the anti-cancer molecule with funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the Samuel Bellin Research Fund, and a Damon Runyon Foundation Cancer Innovation Award. They did not get funding for this research from Novartis, according to the claim.

Novartis spokesman Jeffrey Lockwood declined to comment on the dispute involving his company, Dana-Farber, and Gatekeeper. He also declined a request for an interview with William Sellers, Novartis’s global head of oncology research. Sellers took his current post at Novartis in 2005 after serving as an associate professor at Dana-Farber and Harvard Medical School, according to the company. Novartis, which has its global R&D headquarters in Cambridge, MA, has been funding research at Dana-Farber at least as far back as the 1990s.

Xconomy also contacted Dana-Farber spokesman Bill Schaller about this court dispute but he had not provided any comment as of our publication time.

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