Anti-cure impact of Errant EU patent decision on hESC

There has been concern for months about the direction that the European Union was heading in regards to intellectual property (IP) rights and stem cells.

Now, a definitive decision banning embryonic stem cell (ESC)-based patents by the EU Court has dealt a severe blow to stem cell science in Europe.

The European Court of Justice ruled today that methods involving not just human embryos but also existing human ESC lines, cannot be patented. Remarkably, this ruling impacts all 27 members of the EU.

What this means is that in one fell swoop the Court has eliminated the incentive for biotech and big pharma companies from investing in ESC-based research essentially in all of Europe. In turn, this means that translating ESC-based research to the bedside for cures will be nearly impossible.

While some lawyers quoted in the piece talk about potential work-arounds to allow for protection of IP for some ESC-related methods, the bottom line is that this ruling has nearly completely frozen ESC-based translational science in Europe. Industry has to have IP protection or there is no way they can risk, in an already risky field, to proceed with such research.

Ambiguity is like a kiss of death for for-profit biotech companies. While many of us are hopeful that academic institutions will get more directly involved in the business of early clinical trials and stem cell drug development, clearly we need industry involvement to overall advance the field and help patients.

Some might view this ruling as a victory for companies in the U.S. doing ESC-based research since patent protection of ESC technology is rock solid, but I don’t view it that way. Stem cell research is very much an international endeavor and what is bad for Europe is not necessarily good for the U.S. Witness that ACT has trials in the U.S. and Europe. In addition, while some may say that ACT itself may not be affected by this ruling due to its blasomere-based ESC lines, any ambiguity is bad.

 

 

5 Comments


  1. Let all the research migrate to Asia. The religious and political opposition everywhere else is an unnecessary drag…people are suffering and somethings got to give. Enough is enough.


  2. My sympathies to all the scientists who are being constantly handcuffed by these people who pride themselves on riding the great white chargers of moral justice.

    I agree with Rich – enough is enough. By a damn sight.


  3. This has been in the backburner for a while, or at least I recall reading about something simmilar a while ago. I thought it was supposed to prevent too broad patents, that could stiffle r&d (eg: the conflict between Neuralstem and Stemcells Inc,). I think the crux about whether it will be good or bad is in the details.

    At any rate, back when this was being discussed several years ago, I recall reading thwt in principle it wouldn’t block the possibility of getting patents on a country by country basis


  4. Well, looks like S. Korea is lining up to be a stem cell power house. The president’s recent commitment for funds in South Korea and their ability to piggy back on other nation’s clinical trial data and results will surely open doors for much quicker and effective treatments for their citizens. The uncertainty that plagued Europe and the US (Bush and even the present NIH–HELLOOO embryo redefinition!?!?) will only put us behind the rest of the world, yay :-/


  5. Postdata: I’ve seen some bizarre quotations from the ruling in news items which are making me worried

    I really hope this does not end up being the European version of the Lamberth ban on ESCs 🙁

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