Leading article: A patently poor ruling on stem cells

Share

It is difficult to over-emphasise the potential for stem cell research to revolutionise medicine. Already, after barely more than a decade, scientists look forward to treatments for blindness, for spinal cord injuries, for degenerative conditions such as Parkinson's. Further in the future are possible therapies for everything from diabetes to cancer to arthritis.

With so much to gain, every possible effort should be made to speed the necessary research. Elsewhere in the world, that may be so. But Europe is facing what one expert has called "a Dark Age of stem cell research" after yesterday's legal ruling that no invention based on work using cells from human embryos can be patented.

The catastrophe now threatening investment in the European biotechnology industry began with a legal action from Greenpeace in Germany, in protest against what the group claims amounts to the commercial exploitation of human embryos. At the root of the criticism is a concern that neither scientists nor their employers be allowed to "patent life". Such emotive rhetoric may appear superficially convincing, and also chimes with religiously inspired opposition to the use of embryo tissue. But the analysis is simplistic and the price of such moral objections is too high.

Strong intellectual property rights are central to research and development of all types. Without patents, such activities are all but impossible to fund beyond the initial research stage. The likely result? An unforgivable delay in the development of treatments for disabling and life-threatening conditions.

The only ray of light is the hope either that skilful lawyers may be able to draft around the ruling, or that much-needed patents can be obtained in other jurisdictions, such as the US and Asia. Neither solution is ideal, either for the swift development of new medicines or for the future of European biotech.

Stem cells arguably promise the most radical medical advance since the discovery of penicillin. The ethical issues the research raises – and there are many – must be dealt with by careful regulation and oversight. To stymie progress with unthinking patent laws is indefensible.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts

Björt Ólafsdóttir
 

Daily catch-up: opening round in the election contest of the YouTube videos

John Rentoul
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor