In April 2006, the Governor directed the Department of Commerce to spend up to $5 million to recruit new stem cell research companies, and in May 2007 the Governor awarded $1 million from a biotechnology and small business seed fund to the new hES cell company, Stemina. However, this financial investment has not been accompanied by any legislative support. Specifically, the legislature has twice passed bills that would criminalize SCNT research (both times vetoed by the Governor), and has never passed a bill authorizing additional hES cell research funding beyond that within executive discretion. Thus, the overall legal landscape is characterized by an absence of law. All stem cell research is therefore legal, and regulated only to the extent that it is subject to federal regulation by the FDA, federal restrictions where NIH funds have been used, or voluntary restrictions adopted by individual universities as companies. While he previously announced funding a $750 million public-private partnership in the broad area of biotechnology, the amount of public funding that will support hESCR is not known at this time. No specific state funding programs have been made available to academic and non-profit research institutes in Wisconsin. The primary focus has been to encourage development of businesses that commercialize services and products based on human embryonic stem cell technology.
To further encourage private sector activity in the state, in September 2006 the Doyle administration reached an agreement with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), which holds patents and royalty rights on some of the stem cell lines. Under this agreement, all companies conducting research at non-profit and academic institutions located in Wisconsin will receive a free non-exclusive research license under the stem cell patents held by WARF for that sponsored research. In other words, they will not have to pay royalty fees to WARF for that research that would be required if the research was conducted in another state.
WiCell Research Institute was established in 1999 at the request of UW-Madison to ensure that UW faculty have a place to perform hESC research in Wisconsin. This was done in a period of uncertainty about the permissibility of conducting hESC research on a campus that has federal research funds. The policy has since been clarified such that federal funding is available for hESC research, but deriving new hESC lines in a federally funded laboratory is still impermissable. WiCell, in addition to providing support to UW-Madison researchers and hosting the National Stem Cell Bank, also maintains a privately funded facility that may be used to derive new hESC lines or conduct research on those cell lines ineligible for federal research funding.
Governor Doyle announced the WARF patent agreement as part of an incentive package designed to attract stem cell research and development to Wisconsin. In addition to this agreement, the Governor’s stem cell incentive package also includes:
- Stem cell companies that locate or expand in Wisconsin will be eligible for up to $250,000 in grants.
- All licensed companies in Wisconsin will receive free distribution on the lines that WARF holds patents on and personnel of all licensed companies will be eligible for free stem cell training courses offered by WARF.
- Wisconsin will certify early-stage stem cell companies as eligible for angel and venture capital investment tax credits.
- There will be a new stem cell development specialist in the Wisconsin Entrepreneur’s Network to support companies that wish to start or locate in Wisconsin.
- The state will assist companies with accessing the Wisconsin Angel Network and identifying incubators with wet lab space.
- Wisconsin and WARF will also work with other organizations to ensure that this initiative is part of statewide economic development efforts.
Contacts for IASCR: