Sunday, December 23, 2012

Credit Wars: When a scientist sues the Nobel Prize Assembly

Rongxiang Xu, founder and chairman of MEBO International Group (a Chinese regenerative medicine company), filed a lawsuit in the Orange County, California court system this week against the Nobel Prize Assembly for allegedly overlooking his contributions when making the decision for the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology. The prize was awarded to John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka “for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent.”
In Xu’s suit, which calls for a jury trial, he claims that his 1984 research demonstrated pluripotent reversion of stable somatic cells ahead of the research by Yamanaka and colleagues. His company markets a proprietary moist-exposed burn ointment (hence, MEBO) that boasts the ability to induce “physiological repair and regeneration of extensively wounded skin.”
While he claims earlier research, Xu’s patent (read the full text of US #6,991,813) for the product was filed in June 2001 and issued in January 2006; Yamanaka’s discoveries were submitted to the journal Cell in April 2006 and accepted in August 2006; the paper has been cited 4,265 times according to the Web of Science.
According to a statement by Dr. Xu, his “main priority for filing this suit was to clarify the Academy’s mistaken and misleading statements for the preservation of humanity and future generations, life science research should not desecrate the nature of human life” (PRNewswire).
The lawsuit (case number 30-2012-00615804-CU-DF-CJC) states that ”Dr. Xu has no interest in challenging the Nobel Prize, in discounting the work or discoveries of the scientists who won” and that his “main interest is in rehabilitating his dominant position as the owner, pioneer of the scientific achievement characterized in the publication at issue.”
Credit is extremely important in science, but when it comes to awarding it, what measure is most important? Who was first? Or who had the greatest impact. Arguably Dr. Xu’s patent has had a great impact on society, having been involved in the treatment of millions of patient in dozens of countries, but Yamanaka’s research has enabled thousands of scientists to make drastic discoveries in progressing the field. The results of this case will surely set new precedents for future decisions in awarding credit for seminal research.

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