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$120 million-backed biotech company joins lawsuit against Penn for patent infringement

By David Schwartz
Published: January 8th, 2014

A new and well-heeled biotech company backed by three major research institutions has joined a lawsuit accusing the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) of misappropriating integral technology behind its breakthrough treatment for leukemia.

Launched in December 2013 with a $120 million investment from leading venture capital firms, the biotech company Juno Therapeutics Inc. signed a license agreement to commercialize cancer-fighting T-cell technology patented by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. The technology has garnered much attention after a striking majority of patients in early clinical studies with acute leukemia experienced complete remissions thanks to the T-cells, which are engineered to target cancer cells.

In 2012, Penn entered a highly publicized, $20 million deal with global pharma company Novartis to commercialize the university’s T-cell therapy. St. Jude is suing Penn for infringing on a patent for a technology developed by the hospital’s researchers that programs T-cells to target and attack cancer, also known a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR. According to Penn, its research is significantly different from St. Jude’s, and the patent at the center of the case is invalid.

St. Jude is also accusing Penn of breaching a previous agreement between the two institutions around the T-cell technology, though the judge has ruled that these agreements were ambiguous, and the jury would have to straighten out the facts in court. Most observers believe, however, a settlement will be hammered out before it reaches that point. 

On December 18th, the judge allowed Juno to intervene in the lawsuit, which seeks financial compensation and an end to the alleged patent infringement. The winner of the case could become the lead player in a potentially groundbreaking line of cancer treatments.


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