Dana-Farber Scientists Leave Board of Startup in Legal Battle with Cancer Center

1/21/11

Boston-area researchers have resigned from the board of a West Coast biotech startup, Gatekeeper Pharmaceuticals, which is at odds over technology rights with major players in the biotech community.

Gatekeeper, based in Millbrae, CA, is in a legal battle with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Cambridge, MA, over control of a potentially important drug for lung cancer. After granting Gatekeeper an option on the drug and related molecules in 2009, Dana-Farber sued the startup in September 2010, asking the court to let it out of that agreement. The cancer center indicated in its complaint that the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, an R&D unit of Swiss drug giant Novartis, believes it owns rights to the molecule because it funded the research that led to its discovery at Dana-Farber. (The Novartis unit made its own filing to that effect in December.)

Now the four scientists who served as directors of Gatekeeper—Nathanael Gray, Jeffrey Engelman, Pasi Janne, and Kwok-Kin Wong—are stepping down from the startup’s board and selling a majority of their shares to the firm’s president, John Chant, according to documents filed in federal court in Boston this week. The deal puts Chant in control of how to proceed with the case, over which he and the board had clashed on a number of issues.

This case, which has exposed the wrangling over technology rights that might otherwise occur behind closed doors, has gained wide media coverage. At the center of the dispute is a molecule known as WZ4002, which could become an important new treatment for lung cancer, the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. The drug hasn’t been tested in humans, but a December 2009 paper in Nature showed … Next Page »

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