Penn Sues St. Jude Hospital Over Cancer Treatment Patent

The University of Pennsylvania sued St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital over a patent for creating genetically modified versions of immune cells to treat cancer.

The university asked for a court order declaring it hasn’t infringed the patent held by researchers at St. Jude, which it claims is invalid, according to a March 22 complaint in federal court in Philadelphia.

“The University and St. Jude have adverse legal interests with respect to the 645 patent, and a substantial controversy exists,” lawyers for the university wrote, referring to the patent number.

The lawsuit is the latest chapter in a dispute over the use of the therapy which reprograms T-cells to specifically target leukemia cells. The approach was used by Penn Professor Carl June to treat patients suffering from the blood cancer in an experiment reported in 2011 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Novartis AG in August acquired the university’s technology as part of a $20 million agreement to fund a research center at the school. Novartis was one of three companies to negotiate with the university, June said at the time.

St. Jude, based in Memphis, Tennessee, sued in July accusing the university of claiming the technology as its own in scientific publications and seeking to commercialize it without consent.

Three Lawsuits

Penn then sued St. Jude in July, accusing the hospital of interfering with its prospective contractual relations. In the new action, it is asking a judge to rule on the validity of the therapy’s underlying patent, which was issued to the hospital last week.

St. Jude “is confident in the validity” of the patent, said Gary M. Stephenson, a spokesman for the center, in an e-mailed statement.

“St. Jude is committed to sharing its research discoveries to stimulate other discoveries benefiting children and adults, and provided the University of Pennsylvania with an innovative molecular receptor now covered by this patent.” Stephenson said. “It is our longstanding practice to not comment on ongoing litigation.”

The invention is for an artificial molecule that attaches to normal T-cells and reprograms them to attack cancer cells before they are re-injected into the body. It targets cancers such as acute and chronic leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to the complaint.

The case is Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania v. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 2:13-cv-01502, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). To see the patent, click: 8,399,645