Hopkins wins ruling on patents Seattle company found in violation

March 06, 1997|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

A federal judge has ruled that a Seattle biotechnology company violated patents held by the Johns Hopkins University on technology that helps cancer patients replace blood-producing cells destroyed by chemotherapy.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Roderick McKelvie of Wilmington, Del., paved the way for a jury to decide how much in damages CellPro Inc. should pay the university as well as Baxter International Inc., and Becton Dickinson & Co.

Becton Dickinson, of Franklin Lakes, N.J., holds the rights to the Hopkins patents for diagnostic and related research; Baxter, of Deerfield, Ill., has a license to sell the product.

At issue was a Hopkins patent covering technology that can collect stem cells, which generate billions of new red and white blood cells daily, from cancer patients. Patients are given back the cells after high-dose chemotherapy for cancer.

The technology is considered beneficial and marketable because disease-fighting blood cells lost in chemotherapy can be replaced.

Specifically, the product that the judge said violated Hopkins' patent rights is CellPro's Ceprate SC system, which the company has sold in the United States since last December, when it received Food and Drug Administration approval. It is also sold overseas, and CellPro is developing additional products based on the technology.

Steve Libowitz, a Hopkins spokesman, said the university, Baxter and Becton Dickinson are requesting that the jury award royalties on past and future sales of CellPro's product.

CellPro said 5,000 patients have been treated using the Ceprate system.

"The real losers are the patients," said Joann Reiter, a Cell-Pro spokeswoman. "There is no alternative technology available."

But Libowitz said the plaintiffs are not seeking to block further sales of the product by CellPro.

Hopkins licensed to Becton Dickinson rights to the technology in 1984, and Becton Dickinson licensed some marketing rights to Baxter in 1990.

In response to the judge's ruling, CellPro announced that it filed a petition with the Department of Health and Human Services for a license on the technology to CellPro.

The petition was filed under a federal law that permits the government to issue licenses on privately held patents if the product or technology covered by the patent is based on government-funded research. Hopkins is a big beneficiary of government research grants.

CellPro said it also planned to appeal the ruling. The company's shares fell $1.625 to $9.375 yesterday.

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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