Stem cells will be more accessible for research purposes due to an agreement between the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and Geron Corporation.

The two corporations settled a federal lawsuit and arranged for the commercialization of human embryonic stem-cell technology. This agreement replaces an old license and resolves the issues in a lawsuit filed by WARF, UW-Madison’s patent agency, against Geron in August 2001.

Organ tissue and other cells develop from embryonic stem cells, potentially facilitating breakthroughs in neurodegenerative disorder treatment.

WARF filed the lawsuit to prevent Geron from interfering with the foundation’s ability to contract with other firms to develop stem-cell technology.

The new agreement gives Geron exclusive rights to develop therapeutic and diagnostic products from three of the six cell types UW researchers developed. These three cell types are neural, cardiomyocyte, and pancreatic islet.

The settlement also gives Geron non-exclusive rights to develop research products in hepatocytes, neural cells, hematopoietic cells, osteoblasts and myocytes.

“When the disagreement between us arose, both Geron and WARF said we expected to resolve our differences, and we have done so,” Geron President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas B. Okarma said

WARF and Geron have also agreed to grant research rights to existing hESC patents and patent filings to academic and governmental researchers without royalties or fees. WiCell Research Institute, a WARF subsidiary, will distribute the cell lines. Third-party companies may form collaborations with Geron or obtain licenses to Geron’s intellectual property.

“WARF looks forward to a renewed partnership with Geron,” said Carl Gulbrandsen, WARF managing director. “We are pleased that we are able to dismiss the lawsuit and resolve our differences on an amicable basis.”

UW scientist James Thomson pioneered stem-cell research in 1998 when he discovered stem cells could be isolated and grown in cell cultures. Geron, a biopharmaceutical company, financed much of his work.

Gulbrandsen said public access to Wisconsin’s stem-cell lines “has always been critically important to WARF, and the new agreement assures that such access will continue.”

Gulbrandsen said he thinks the settlement will prove to be an important stepping stone for UW.

“At the end of the day, the cell lines that were derived in Wisconsin will be the most widely used human embryonic stem cells in the world,” he said.

He added that the agreement will attract not only the interest of researchers worldwide, but federal government funding.

“Our hope is that Wisconsin will be the center of the universe for stem-cell research.”