Scientists oppose European stem cell patent ban

 Great article about leading stem cell scientists stating that the ECJ Advocate’s recommendation to ban stem cell patents will block development of stem cell-based therapeutics in Europe.  Here are the highlights from the article:

Scientists oppose European stem cell patent ban

By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent

LONDON | Wed Apr 27, 2011 1:05pm EDT

LONDON (Reuters) – Research scientists hit out on Wednesday at a European Court of Justice (ECJ) case they say could block development of embryonic stem cell-based therapies in Europe.

The ECJ’s advocate general has said all patents on embryonic stem cell-related technologies should be banned on moral grounds, but in a letter in the journal Nature and during a briefing in London, leading stem cell scientists said that could spell disaster for drug firms seeking treatments for conditions such as blindness and spinal chord injuries.

“If the ECJ was to follow this opinion, the reality is that all patents in Europe that relate to human embryonic stem cells will be eliminated,” said Austin Smith of the Center for Stem Cell Research in Cambridge, one of letter’s 13 signatories.

“This will put Europe at a huge disadvantage.”

Smith and his fellow signatories — who include leading stem cell researchers from all over Europe — argued that patenting is a key step in the development of new medical treatments.

Without the protection of patents, they said, drug companies will not invest in the research or in the cell manufacturing technologies needed to develop stem cell therapies.

“Innovative companies must have patent protection as an incentive to become active in Europe,” they wrote.

The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) said a move to ban patents “will preclude investment in potentially life-saving treatments.”

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BIO submits comments on Australian Senate Patent Amendment

The Australian Senate has proposed the Patent Amendment (Human Genes and Biological Materials) Bill 2010 that aims to ban ‘gene patents’

From the BIO Submission to Australian Senate Legal Committee on Patent Amendment:

This amendment would exclude from patent protection “any” biological material, whether a human gene or otherwise, that is substantially identical to a naturally-occuring biological material.  Specifically, the amendment states that the following materials would be catergorically declared unpatentable:

            “biological materials including their components and derivatives, whether isolated or purified or not and however made, which are identical or substantially identical to such materials as they exist in nature.”

“Biological materials” broadly “include,” but apparently not limited to, such fundamental biotechnology building blocks as “DNA, RNA, proteins, cells and fluids.”

As almost any biological material can be said to be “substantially identical” to some other natural biological material, this change would have the effect of banning large swaths of previously patentable innovative biological discoveries – thus, removing the protection needed to incentivize investment in biotechnology-related innovation in drugs and biological therapies, preventative treatments such as vaccines, animal healthcare products, renewable energy production and other “green” technologies, environmental mitigation and remediation, biodiversity, farming, food, nutrition, household cleaners, and industrial fermentation for food and fuel production.
BIO and its members believe that excluding biological inventions from patent protection is inconsistent with the demonstrated evidence of social benefit from isolating and purifying active compounds from previously ineffective mixtures occurring in nature. For example, the invention of isolated polymerase from certain thermophilic bacteria has provided valuable methods for amplifying DNA that enables forensic DNA analysis to establish guilt or innocence of crimes, the development of life-saving medical diagnostics, and molecular breeding for improved plants. If the amendment had been law, it would have prevented the patenting – and thus development – of significant advances in human health, like purified insulin, adrenaline, and antibiotics; vitamin D and B-12 compositions; human growth hormone; erythropoietin, and numerous vaccines and anti-cancer treatments on the market today.

Accordingly, BIO believes that this amendment, if adopted, would fail to affect its intended purpose of advancing medical and scientific research and the diagnosis and cure of human illness and disease. Indeed, it would slow such progress immeasurably. The public demands continuing the patent incentive for such biologic innovation.