Johns Hopkins University and others have fired back in theiryears-long legal battle with CellPro Inc. by filing a complaintalleging that the Bothell, Wash., company infringed a patentowned by the university.

CellPro said Wednesday that it was served a summons andcomplaint in Delaware District Court alleging that it has no rightto use certain monoclonal antibodies -- specifically a CD34stem-cell selection technology developed by Curt Civin at JohnsHopkins and patented in 1990 -- which CellPro currently has inearly clinical trials.

Plaintiffs are Johns Hopkins, Baxter Healthcare Corp. and BectonDickinson and Co. Becton Dickinson is a licensee of JohnsHopkins under the patent and Baxter is a sublicensee of BectonDickinson.

Lee Parker, CellPro's director of investor relations, toldBioWorld that there was sufficient prior knowledge of theprocess to render the patent meaningless. "Anybody who was acell biologist could have come up with this," she said.

Parker added, "Our antibody is not the same antibody that waspatented. It was developed independently at the FredHutchinson Cancer Research Center. Our antibody attaches tothe same CD, but to a different epitope."

Civin, an associate professor of oncology at the Johns HopkinsCancer Center, invented what university officials said was apractical and consistent means of separating viable, activeforms of important immune system cells, called stem cells,from human bone marrow or circulating blood.

"We believe this invention will lead to significantimprovements in outcomes for bone marrow transplantpatients; for example, to improve the outcomes of women withStage II breast cancer undergoing massive chemotherapytreatments and for whom all other treatments have failed," theuniversity said. "Dr. Civin's invention permits the selection of ahighly specific population of stem cells, which is the key todevelopment of practical treatments and is the basis of a newmedical industry."

Johns Hopkins said it exclusively licensed to Becton Dickinsonand Baxter the rights to develop and market products using thetechnology. It said Baxter offered CellPro a sublicense morethan two years ago. Negotiations ended and CellPro filed alawsuit in Washington District Court, asking that the patent bedeclared invalid and seeking damages under antitrust andunfair competition laws. The patent count was dismissedbecause of jurisdictional reasons, Parker said, but seven othercounts are still pending.

"Baxter feels very strongly (that CellPro's case) is withoutmerit," said Jill Carter, Baxter's vice president of public affairs.He said the plaintiffs intend to fight CellPro over the CD34technology to the end.

-- Jim Shrine

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.