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The promise of $3 billion in state funding for biotechnology research in California has more than one law firm in the area salivating — especially now that San Francisco has been picked to host the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman is the first law firm to stop gawking and start acting on the city’s selection. Earlier this week, Pillsbury used the Institute’s San Francisco siting as an opportunity to announce its new SCOPE — Stem Cell Outlook & Planning Effort — noting in the press release its distance from the Institute’s new King Street location (about one mile from Pillsbury’s 50 Fremont St. location). “This week we planted the flag with SCOPE,” said David Anderson, who manages the firm’s San Francisco office. “We know that companies that are coming to California for this funding will have a whole wide array of needs that we feel we are well-suited to meet.” Of course, plenty of other firms feel the same way and have been positioning themselves to make the most of the opportunity. “Mayor Gavin Newsom made a personal and very open invitation to the industry to think of San Francisco, not just as the birthplace of biotech, but as a fantastic center for biotech companies,” said Heller Ehrman partner Bruce Jenett, who serves on Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Biotechnology Advisory Council. “And people went wow.” Fenwick & West organized its own smaller stem-cell initiative committee four months ago, and is planning a symposium involving a local biotechnology company and venture capital firm. It plans on following up with a published opinion piece and white paper detailing such issues as IP ownership of Prop 71 funding and interplay with federal law. “The idea is that we provide the business community with an overview and guidance of the issues presented,” said partner Michael Shuster, who chairs Fenwick’s life sciences group. “Our intent is to position ourselves so that we are the go-to firm for companies deriving funding from Proposition 71.” Shuster said the firm, which counts the University of California among its clients, will offer practical business advice. New entrepreneurs, for instance, may not realize that they can’t do work on unapproved cell lines if they have used federal funding to support infrastructure. Pillsbury Chairwoman Mary Cranston — apparently inspired by her work with San Francisco’s Committee on Jobs — has taken a front-and-center approach to the initiative. The firm co-sponsored the 2005 Stem Cell Symposium on April 26 and 27 at the Hyatt at SFO, held a stem cell-themed Women’s Technology Cluster breakfast, and has plans to do more. Other attorneys have been involved in building the infrastructure of tomorrow’s San Francisco biotechnology industry by doing volunteer work for the initiative, such as preparing siting proposals for the institute. Cooley Godward’s Frederick Dorey, a special counsel in the life sciences group, served with Heller’s Jenett on Newsom’s biotech council. But Dorey says that Cooley backed away from getting directly involved with the CIRM committee. “There is a potential issue with conflicts for firms if you negotiate deals [on behalf of clients] with CIRM and you helped with [CIRM]‘s IP policy,” he said. Dorey added that there will be many more law firm programs and panels about stem cells before it is all over, but that it may be years before the real business arrives. Then there’s the shadow cast by the Life Legal Defense Foundation’s lawsuit questioning the legality of the institute — a suit that questions the state’s immediate ability to sell long-term bonds. As enthusiastic as Jenett is about the potential of stem cells and biotech for San Francisco, he’s trying to stay grounded. “I agreed to serve because I love what we are doing. I have a tremendous interest in stem cells,” Jenett said. “But I think the law firms need to be careful, just like the public needs to be careful, that you don’t over-hype the promise.” He gives the examples of two unrelated areas — nanotechnology and cold fusion — that have yet to deliver. “Everybody will jump on the bandwagon and pretend to be the stem-cell expert,” he added. And when the dust settles, Jenett said, the firms that stand out will be the ones that have the depth of practice not just to help create IP but to defend it. “Because you will be attacked,” he said, “whether from the religious/morality segments of society or the simple business wars.”

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