One of the most widely used cell biology tools — green fluorescent protein from the jellyfish Aequoria victoria — is now under licensure from a unit of one of the world’s biggest corporations, General Electric.
GE’s newly formed $14 billion GE Healthcare unit announced last week that Bristol-Myers Squibb and Regeneron have signed licensing agreements with GE Healthcare for the rights to use GFP in their respective cell-based research programs.
The deals were completed by GE Healthcare’s predecessor, Amersham Biosciences, prior to GE’s acquisition of the company, according to Sian Godwin, GE Healthcare’s product manager for cellular analysis reagents. That blockbuster acquisition, which was finalized in April, involved forming GE Healthcare out of Amersham and GE’s Medical Sciences division.
Because Amersham had positioned itself to sub-license specific GFP intellectual property held by various corporations and institutions, GE Healthcare now takes over the licensing. Via an e-mail interview, Godwin explained the details of GFP’s commercial evolution to Inside Bioassays.
“GE Healthcare (formerly Amersham) has, via a series of strategic alliances, acquired the rights to offer sub-licenses to the AvGFP intellectual property held by BioImage A/S, Columbia University, and Invitrogen IP Holdings (the successor to Aurora Biosciences), thus enabling users to obtain these rights from a single source,” Godwin wrote.
“GE Healthcare will receive a license fee every time it executes a sub-license agreement,” Godwin continued, “[and] the agreement can be renewed annually or for the life of the patents.”
GFP is commercially available from BD Biosciences Clontech, Godwin said, but in order to purchase it, for-profit organizations must first either take out a license from GE Healthcare or already have a license. According to Godwin, more than 65 companies currently have licenses to GFP. Non-profit organizations are not required to obtain a license for GFP-based research.
If one of the goals of GE Healthcare is to expand GE’s presence in basic cell and molecular biology research, acquiring Amersham’s rights to offer comprehensive licensing to GFP is certainly a large step in that direction. Besides being a crucial tool in basic cell biology, GFP is widely used in live cell- and live animal-based drug screening — so much so that the lasers and detectors of most turn-key microscopes, plate scanners, cytometers, and the like, including GE Healthcare’s own IN Cell Analyzer, are typically optimized for GFP excitation and detection.
GFP is of particular value because researchers can transfect cells with it in such a way that it is expressed in easily detectable amounts, and often in conjunction with another protein of interest or in response to a particular genetic pathway being altered in some way.
Bristol-Myers Squibb’s agreement entitles it to use GFP to conduct primary and secondary screening; profiling; research; and lead optimization “for the development of human therapeutics and human prophylactics, and in the construction of transgenic animal lines,” according to GE Healthcare’s official June 9 statement regarding the new licensing deals.
Additionally, Bristol-Myers Squibb obtained the rights to a specific usage of GFP as found in the Redistribution application, part of the patent portfolio of BioImage. The Redistribution assay broadly refers to monitoring the movement of proteins or parts of proteins that are fused to fluorescent proteins such as GFP in cells. According to Godwin, “such methods are claimed as being particularly suitable for drug screening applications.”
“Essentially these are method patents which cover a specific application of GFP,” Godwin added. “[Bristol-Myers Squibb] wanted to utilize this technique in [its] drug discovery processes, and therefore requested that GE Healthcare assist them in acquiring the necessary patent rights.”
Phone calls to Bristol-Myers Squibb were not returned in time for this publication; however, an outside spokesperson for the company told Inside Bioassays that it was the company’s policy not to comment on specific intended research uses or therapeutic areas to be investigated.
According to GE Healthcare, Regeneron will also use GFP for drug discovery and development. In addition, under the deal Regeneron has gained the rights to develop cell lines containing mutant GFP that it can then commercialize. Calls to Regeneron representatives also were not returned in time for this publication.