Dana-Farber and Bay-Area Startup File Responses in Lawsuit Over Rights to Cancer Molecule

11/10/10

There’s a new round of interesting court filings in Boston-based Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s lawsuit against a Bay Area biotech startup co-founded by Dana-Farber scientists. It’s the latest chapter in a case primarily concerning who has rights to a potential game-changing drug for lung cancer discovered at Dana-Farber.

Dana-Farber filed a lawsuit against Millbrae, CA-based Gatekeeper Pharmaceuticals in U.S. District Court in Boston on September 21. The lawsuit, as I explained last month, essentially asks the court to let Dana-Farber out of a previous agreement to license patent rights to the potential lung cancer drug, WZ4002, to Gatekeeper, a startup formed in March 2009 to commercialize the technology. Dana-Farber indicated in its complaint that the Swiss drug giant Novartis, a longtime supporter of the cancer institute, had come forward after the agreement was inked to claim it had rights to the molecule—and that Dana-Farber now believes that claim to be valid. Now the new round of court filings deal with the issue of whether Gatekeeper’s president, John Chant, should be allowed to intervene in the case.

At stake in the case is a potential drug for lung cancer—the most common cause of cancer deaths in the U.S—that could treat certain cases of non-small cell lung cancer that have built up resistance to existing drugs. Many patients today develop resistance to lung cancer drugs such as the blockbuster erlotinib (Tarceva) and the more infrequently prescribed Iressa (gefitinib), causing their cancer to relapse. The molecule in question in this case addresses the so-called T970M gene mutation, which is believed to be responsible for about half of cases of resistance. (The molecule’s discovery was described in a December 2009 article in Nature.)

In its response to Dana-Farber’s complaint, Gatekeeper asked the court, among other things, to order the cancer institute to license WZ4002 to the startup, and to order Novartis to pay damages for causing that license to be delayed. But the startup’s president, Chant, argued in a motion to intervene in the in lawsuit, filed last month, that the four members of his firm’s board of directors have not sought the types of damages from Dana-Farber and Novartis that Chant believes are in the startup’s best interest. In part, his argument is that the board members have conflicts of interest because three of them—Nathanael Gray, Pasi Janne, and Kwok-Kin Wong—are employees of Dana-Farber and one of them, Jeffrey Engelman, has served as a paid consultant to Novartis. If the court grants Chant’s motion, then he would have the legal standing to represent the company in this case.

On Monday, both Gatekeeper and Dana-Farber filed memoranda to oppose … Next Page »

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