Scientists challenge patent ban for embryonic stem cell research

Researchers and biotech firms say European court ruling will deter investors from funding new cures

Scientists and lawyers in Britain are challenging a European ban on the patenting of embryonic stem cells which they believe is blocking the development of new treatments for a range of illnesses including diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s.

They have been joined by a High Court judge who has asked the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg to clarify its decision to prevent the patenting of stem cell research involving the use and destruction of human embryos. Medical researchers and biotechnology firms are incensed by the European court’s ban on stem cell patents. They say it is deterring investment in Europe while scientists in Asia forge ahead with research into new medical treatments based on embryonic stem cells.

Sir Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly the sheep, and Professor Austin Smith of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research at Cambridge University, said that banning patents has effectively removed the protection of intellectual property that is crucial for commercial investment.

Their concerns have now been voiced by Henry Carr QC, a deputy judge of the High Court, who questioned whether the European court really understood the scientific basis of its ban, which it issued last year.

The European court ruled that German scientists could not patent a technique based on human embryonic stem cells because it involved the destruction of something “capable of commencing the process of development of a human being” – in other words a human embryo.

However, Mr Carr said that the definition of a human embryo used by the court may be too broad because it included types of artificially created “embryos” that are not capable of developing into a foetus.

“Stem cells have the potential to revolutionise the treatment of human disease. Because of their capacity to differentiate into almost any type of adult cell, human stem cells open the door to a wide variety of new therapies and other medical applications,” Mr Carr said in his judgment on a patent appeal case. “However, to exclude [from patentability] processes of development which are incapable of leading to a human being does not, in my view, strike a balance at all… It is more akin to a total exclusion from patent protection of the fruits of stem cell research, to the detriment of European industry and public health.”

Professor Pete Coffey of University College London, who is conducting one of the first clinical trials of stem cells to treat progressive blindness, said the ban on patenting stem cell research could harm its future development in Britain and Europe. “It creates  [funding problems for] this kind of translational research – taking ideas from the lab into the clinic,” he said.

The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday that genes extracted from the human body cannot be patented.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital