EntreMed Inc., the Rockville developer of Angiostatin, an experimental tumor-fighting protein, countersued Abbott Laboratories in Boston yesterday, accusing the pharmaceutical company of using intimidation to gain rights to market a similar drug in the future.
EntreMed and Children's Hospital in Boston allege that the drug company is trying to obtain rights to the material it neither discovered nor owns. Unspecified compensatory damages are sought.
"This case is about very valuable science with great implications for the public at large," said William F. Lee, an attorney representing Children's Hospital and three researchers named in the Abbott lawsuit. "Abbott has tried to get rights to that science by threatening and attacking the personal reputations of some of the best known scientists in the country. That's not how you get rights to good science."
In a lawsuit filed May 30 in Boston, Abbott claimed that its discovery was stolen and illegally licensed to EntreMed. The defendants are EntreMed, Children's Hospital, the hospital's noted researcher, Dr. Judah Folk- man, and two of his colleagues.
Abbott, based in Abbott Park, Ill., says it has tried for three years to resolve the dispute over the intellectual property rights involved.
The legal dispute centers around the plasminogen molecule - a clotting factor. The molecule has five folded regions, known as kringles. Both sides agree that Folkman was involved in the discovery and patenting of kringles 1 through 4 but differ over who owns kringle 5.
"Abbott is the sole and rightful holder of the patent for kringle 5," said Ann Fahey-Widman, an Abbott spokeswoman. "Abbott's discovery of kringle 5 is an important medical and scientific advancement that we hope someday will help a great many people."
Abbott's lawsuit claims that its researcher, Donald Davidson, discovered novel uses of a kringle 5 fragment that could contribute to shutting down unwanted blood-vessel growth.
Davidson shared the information with Children's Hospital and Folkman under a confidentiality agreement, so that researchers at the hospital could confirm his discovery, Abbott claims. But Children's Hospital then patented the use of kringle 5 and licensed it to EntreMed, the Abbott lawsuit alleges.
Angiostatin, which involves kringles 1 through 3, is one of two proteins EntreMed developed to stunt the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors. The other protein is Endostatin. Both are in early testing on cancer patients to determine whether they are safe.
The two proteins are aimed at limiting blood-vessel growth, or angiogenesis, and EntreMed has tied its fortunes to the proteins' effectiveness, dubbing itself "the angiogenesis company."
Pharmaceutical companies can spend $250 million to $500 million to put a successful drug on the market, a process that can take a decade or longer. Most drug candidates fail to win approval, stumbling during the rigorous testing.
But a single successful drug can potentially generate billions in revenue, leading pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies to closely protect their discoveries and their licenses to profit from the discoveries of others.
"If Abbott succeeds in bullying Children's Hospital or EntreMed into giving away this discovery, it will discourage others from pursuing research and thereby strangle medical innovations," said Dr. John Holaday, EntreMed's chairman, president and chief executive officer. "Ultimately those most hurt will be the thousands of cancer patients desperately seeking new treatments."
Staff writer Julie Bell contributed to this article.