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Ruling on stem-cell patents may spell end of research in Europe

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    Ruling on stem-cell patents may spell end of research in Europe

    Ruling on stem-cell patents may spell end of research in Europe

    By Steve Connor, Science Editor

    Thursday, 28 April 2011

    Thursday, 28 April 2011

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    A fledgling biosciences industry that promises to revolutionise medicine in the 21st century could be destroyed by a French judge who has declared it immoral to patent inventions based on cells derived from human embryos.

    Some of Britain's leading biomedical scientists – including Sir Ian Wilmut who cloned Dolly the sheep – have expressed their horror over a legal opinion by Yves Bot, advocate-general of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, that no one should be allowed to patent any invention that comes out of research involving stem cells obtained from human embryos. This would include potential treatments for incurable conditions ranging from heart disease and Parkinson's to blindness and spinal cord injuries.

    Sir Ian and 12 other leading stem-cell researchers said the ruling – if followed by the judges of the European court – would effectively end all research on embryonic stem cells, which have the unique ability to develop into any of the dozens of cell types that make up the human body.

    "Work on human embryonic stem cells is just completely undermined by this [legal] opinion," Sir Ian said yesterday. "The consequences, if it was not possible to patent these processes, is that companies would be much less likely to invest in academic research if they were not allowed to protect their inventions."

    Mr Bot, a magistrate considered to be on the right of Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative party, was required by the European Court to make a ruling on a dispute that has dragged on through the German patent courts. In his legal opinion, he says that stem cells derived from human embryos have the ability to "evolve" into a complete human being and should therefore be legally classified as embryos. This would prohibit them from being used in patent applications.

    "To make an industrial application of an invention using embryonic stem cells would amount to using human embryos as a simple base material, which would be contrary to ethics and public policy," said a court statement.

    "The advocate-general considers that an invention cannot be patentable where the application of the technical process for which the patent is filed necessitates the prior destruction of human embryos for their use as base material, even if the description of that process does not contain any reference to the use of human embryos."

    Professor Austin Smith, chair of the Welcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research at Cambridge University, said that banning patents would effectively remove the protection of intellectual property and lead to the abandonment of vital research into a host of incurable diseases.

    "This opinion by the advocate-general is threatening and undermining to our research and to European research in general. Patenting is a key vehicle for the translation [of university research] to deliver new products for medicine," Professor Smith said.


    #2, Updated: 27/04/2011 19:01
    Ruling threatens stem cell industry

    Patients in the UK could be denied revolutionary stem cell treatments by a legal bombshell from Europe that threatens to blow apart the biotech industry, scientists have warned.

    The European Court of Justice is considering a test case that could make it unlawful to patent applications using embryonic stem cells on moral grounds.

    Fears about the outcome have been raised by an influential ruling recommendation that patenting any use of cells derived from human embryos breaches ethical principles.



      I hope and believe the European Court of Justice isn’t as stupid as Mr Bot and Greenpeace.

      The judge ruled that stem cells derived from embryos could 'evolve' into a human being and should be classified as embryos.
      Strange that a European judge can rule that derived cells shall be classified as embryos. Not so strange that a Sarkozy conservative right-wing judge does it though.

      Biological cell material from any human biological material could likewise be banned for patents then, since not all eggs or cells can "evolve" into human beings.

      But if a patent ban on this should happen I guess that is just another reason for some countries to not become a EU member state.


        Religious stupidity again, and again, and again...
        Don't ask what clinical trials can do for you, ask what you can do for clinical trials.

        Fenexy: Proyecto Volver a Caminar (soon in english too)


          This issue isn’t a new issue though. I’ve read that some medical juridical experts on the issue in fact welcomes a patent ban in this case on this, not because of religious ethical principles or beliefs, but more due to the patent regulations isn’t up-to-date on modern day biotechnology. Like the patent processes handling biotechnology are the same now as the old patent processes that took care of mechanical stuff like light bulb patents. The double moral question is also present, like if a patent on this was okayed then how can researchers become rich while the donors of (say) eggs to research isn’t allowed (in many countries) to receive money for their donations? And maybe a patent ban on this will not have such a devastating effect on research as the British scientists in the article says since most of this is basic research which again is academia research funded by state or government. For private corporations and biotechnology companies it will have greater impact though. Still I personally rule that the judge in this article is a nut.