The ruling by a European court banning patents on inventions derived from stem cell research has been described as ‘devastating’ for biotech researchers and life science companies that depend on their findings.
The Court of Justice of the EU has ruled that inventions requiring the use of human embryos (at whatever stage of development) as base material are excluded from patentability, even if the patent does not itself refer to such use.
The ruling could see an end to UK investment in stem cell research and life science companies that rely on it, including medtech companies developing diagnostics and therapies relating to this area of biotechnology.
The regenerative properties of stem cells from human embryos is a key discovery of the biotech sector, and the new ruling excludes Europe from what has been hailed as the medical breakthrough of the new century.
Researchers have predicted that stem cell research could deliver effective therapies for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
“This is a devastating decision that will stop stem cell therapies’ use in medicine,” said Pete Coffey, a researcher at UCL. “The potential to treat disabling and life-threatening diseases using stem cells will not be realised in Europe.”
Patent attorney Dr. Richard Gibbs, Associate at Marks & Clerk, noted: “This decision may do serious damage to stem cell research and technology in Europe. Those with existing patents will be uncertain of their enforceability; those intending to apply may need to reconsider their options.
“The potential for successful commercialisation is the major pre-requisite for attracting much-needed funding and investment in the arena of stem cell technology, and this decision significantly impacts that potential.”
Religious campaigners against stem cell research have praised the ruling as a victory for their view that individual life begins at conception.
In the US, the current administration has overturned the previous ban on stem cell research – but if a future government restores the ban, a medical breakthrough at the heart of a new life science industry sector could be lost to the Western world.