Researchers challenge ban on embryonic stem cell patents

stem cell patent embryonic europe (michael neubert http://www.flickr.com/photos/neubert_lacy/6333860719/)

Scientists and lawyers in Britain are challenging the European ban on patenting embryonic stem cells, according to an article in The Independent newspaper.

The ban came into being in October 2011, when the European Court of Justice ruled that procedures involving human embryonic stem (ES) cells cannot be patented. At the time, many scientists were incensed. “This is the worst possible outcome and it’s a disaster for Europe,” said one.

Now, following the US Supreme Court's decision last week that human genes cannot be patented (Genetics industry in for shake-up following Supreme Court gene patent ruling), medical researchers and biotechnology firms are reiterating their concerns about the European stem cell ruling, arguing that it deters investment in Europe while scientists in Asia advance new research with ES cells. Some argue that the ban is blocking the development of new treatments and has removed the protection of IP that is crucial for commercial investment.

A High Court judge has also now asked the European court to clarify its position, questioning whether the court really understood the scientific basis of its ban. Quoted in The Independent, Henry Carr QC said that the definition of a human embryo used by the court may have been too broad. While the court ruled that techniques based on human ES cells could not be patented because it involved the destruction of something "capable of commencing the process of development of a human being", Mr Carr said that the court's definition of a human embryo also included artificially created embryos that weren't capable of forming a foetus.

What do you think? What has been your experience following the ban on ES cell patents in Europe? What do you think the ban means for the future of stem cell research? Will it deter investment in Europe? Why not join our discussion on LinkedIn, or leave a comment below. Want more from Total BioPharma? Sign up to our newsletter – it doesn't cost anything and only takes a minute.

If you are interested in this, you may also be interested in Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine Congress, taking place in Cambridge, MA on September 30 – October 1.

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