Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Stem Cell Research Loses European Patent Protection

By Martin Pera and Debra Yin Foo

The European Court of Justice has ruled that research involving the removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage – and therefore entailing the destruction of that embryo – cannot be patented. The ruling removes a key commercial incentive for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to back stem-cell research in Europe.

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"The decision by the European Union Court of Justice will slow or halt the translation of advances in stem cell research into treatments for patients.

“Though the ruling does not affect Australia directly, we have to recognise that progress in this field depends on international collaboration, particularly in clinical trials. European stem cell scientists are leaders in the field, and everyone will suffer if there are barriers to such collaboration.

“Engagement of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors is critical to bringing stem cell therapies to the clinic. Such engagement depends on the ability to protect intellectual property.

“Clinical trials of cell therapeutics derived from embryonic stem cells are already underway in the United States for spinal cord injury and macular degeneration, and more are on the way. These trials depend on private sector investment and technological capability. The ruling will make it very difficult to pursue similar work in Europe."

Professor Martin Pera is Program Head of Stem Cells Australia and Chair of Stem Cell Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

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"This is a disappointing decision and goes against a purpose of the patent system. The patent system rewards innovation and encourages dissemination of information by disclosure of the invention in a patent. For that disclosure...

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Source: AusSMC