A federal judge in Boston has ruled a University of Utah scientist didn’t contribute to a powerful method used to neutralize genes that cause diseases and should not be added as a named inventor. The decision is a big win for Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Cambridge and several academic institutions in Massachusetts that stand to profit from what many believe will be one of the most significant drug innovations in a generation.
U.S. District Chief Judge Patti B. Saris agreed to a request by Alnylam and its academic partners to throw out the U Utah lawsuit. The suit contended Utah professor Brenda Bass should be named a co-inventor of patents for a class of double-stranded RNA molecules that are used to silence disease-causing genes. The ruling could end a decade of litigation that has been closely watched in the biomedical field, though it’s unclear whether U Utah will appeal.
In addition to Alnylam, which has multiple ongoing drug trials based on the technology, the prevailing parties include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, the University of Massachusetts, and Max Planck Institutes, all of which played a role in the research and are licensing technology in the disputed patents.
Thomas Tuschl and his research team at Max Planck, a leading German research university, are generally credited with the original discovery. They published a paper in 2001 suggesting researchers could create synthetic short interfering ribonucleic acid molecules — siRNAs — that could be used to silence genes that cause disease.
The ruling “is a victory of Alnylam, and it avoids an embarrassment for Tuschl,” said John Leavitt, a retired life sciences consultant and molecular biologist who has followed the case closely. “And all of the [university] licensors won’t have to shell out money to Utah,” he added.
Alnylam representatives didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. The company’s shares were trading up slightly after the news broke. The company has yet to win regulatory approval for its first marketable drug based on the technology.
Source: The Boston Globe