This story has been updated to include comment from a Traversa executive.
As Traversa Therapeutics looks to sell off its assets as part of ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, a former executive has taken legal steps to block the company's effort to find a buyer for certain of its intellectual property, arguing that he is the IP's rightful owner.
In a bankruptcy court filing, Traversa's one-time director of chemistry Scott Petersen states that he owns the IP, as well as the “rights associated with the underlying technology,” and therefore Traversa has no rights to divest it.
In the filing, Petersen claims Traversa is aiming to sell the IP, as well as certain other assets, to its former CSO Curt Bradshaw. Bradshaw assumed executive control of the firm when former President and CEO Hans Petersen, who is Scott Petersen's brother, stepped down.
The IP in question is US patent application No. 20110294869, entitled “Self-Delivering Bio-Labile Phosphate-Protected Pro-Oligos for Oligonucleotide-Based Therapeutics and Mediating RNA Interference.” Petersen is listed as the sole inventor, although Traversa is named as the assignee.
Traversa was founded in 2006 to commercialize an siRNA delivery technology, invented in the lab of of University of California, San Diego, researcher Steven Dowdy, that combines protein transduction domains linked with a double-stranded RNA binding domain.
Despite Traversa's initial success with this so-called PTD-DRBD technology, including its signing a research agreement with Sanofi in 2010 (GSN 3/25/2010), the company was ultimately unable to secure the financing it needed to maintain its operations.
As exclusively reported by Gene Silencing News, Traversa filed for bankruptcy in April and began liquidating its assets (GSN 5/31/2012).
Petersen told Gene Silencing News earlier this year that Traversa had also been working on another siRNA delivery technology that he initially developed during his time as a postdoc in Dowdy's lab.
Dubbed siRNN, the delivery approach involves directly modifying the phosphate backbone of an oligo such as an siRNA in order to mask its negative charge, which prevents its passing through the cell membrane, he explained on the sidelines of the Tides: Oligonucleotide and Peptide Research, Technology, and Product Development conference in May. The modified molecules are then joined to cell-penetrating peptides or other localization moieties to facilitate cellular targeting.
According to Petersen, the '869 patent application covers the siRNN technology. And while the IP is assigned to Traversa, he said he acquired its full rights upon the declaration of bankruptcy and is maintaining them in a holding company called LipoSciences. He is also actively looking to further develop the technology through a partnership with a bigger industry player.
After Traversa decided to close its doors, it was planning on vacating its IP, Petersen explained to Gene Silencing News this week. Concerned that the US Patent and Trademark Office would classify the application as abandoned if maintenance fees were not paid, he said he was able to assign the IP to LipoSciences.
In this month's court filing, Petersen said he began work on the siRNN technology in early 2008 and began reducing it to practice on March 8 of that year — nearly two weeks before starting work at Traversa.
He also said that in September of that year, Traversa filed a provisional patent application on the technology, although he did not assign its rights to the company. Around two years later, he signed an invention assignment agreement handing to Traversa all rights to inventions he made “during the course of his employment relationship” with the firm.
Petersen added in the court filing that although he was asked in 2011 to assign the '869 patent application to Traversa, after his employment with the company had been terminated, he “refused to do so.”
“This property … belongs to Dr. Petersen. It was conceived and reduced to practice before his employment relationship began with [Traversa], and it has never been assigned” to the company, the filing states, adding that whether Traversa owns “any rights” to the application and related technology is “a separate question.
“At most, Traversa holds a non-exclusive license to utilize the [siRNN] technology, but does not have any other rights,” the filing maintains. “Petersen does not dispute that [Traversa] can sell whatever rights it owns, which … are minimal, and do not include actual title to the patent application free and clear of … Petersen's interest.”
In the filing, Petersen asked the court to deny any request to sell the patent application or technology claimed within.
Traversa officials were not available for comment.