The European Court of Justice issued a ruling today that therapeutic products created from human embryonic stem cells are not patentable. A press release cites the court's decision:
Court holds that an invention is excluded from patentability where the implementation of the process requires either the prior destruction of human embryos or their prior use as base material, even if, in the patent application, the description of that process, as in the present case, does not refer to the use of human embryos.James Lawford-Davies presented background on the case at the World Stem Cell Summit October 5 in Pasadena. He says the decision is seen as "a victory by those opposed to the use of embryos for research in the EU". Aurora Plomer, a legal scholar at the University of Sheffield, concurs:
"The ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union could be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights in failing to recognize the margin of discretion granted to Member States on the rights of human embryos."Researchers are equally disappointed. An AP story quotes Pete Coffey, who received a CIRM Research Leadership Award to support his move from University College London to the University of California Santa Barbara. Coffey has been developing an embryonic stem cell-based approach to treating the most common form on blindness.
"This is a devastating decision which will stop stem cell therapies' use in medicine," Pete Coffey, a stem cell researcher at University College London, said in a statement. "The potential to treat disabling and life-threatening diseases using stem cells will not be realized in Europe."The Guardian quotes Austin Smith, head of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research at Cambridge University, who said that the decision left European scientists is a "ridiculous position".
"We are funded to do research for the public good, yet prevented from taking our discoveries to the market place where they could be developed into new medicines. One consequence is that the benefits of our research will be reaped in America and Asia."Lawford-Davies says he still holds out hope for the field for the following reasons:
- Inventors and patent attorneys have known about this concern for some time and have been drafting to try to take account of the court position.
- It should be possible to obtain patents on allied technologies, such as biomarkers and diagnostics related to the particular therapy.
- It is still possible to obtain these types of patents in most other countries in the world, including the US.