Stem cell firms must leap ‘patent hurdle’

SCOTLAND’S life sciences industry must do more to attract investment from America by overcoming the “patents hurdle” put in place by a recent European Court stem cell ruling, according to a senior lawyer.

Philippa Montgomerie, a partner in the Scottish practice of international law firm DLA Piper, warned more must be done to promote Scotland’s unique selling points, such as collaborations between universities and businesses. Montgomerie said that a recent ruling from the European Court of Justice did not necessarily spell disaster for the growing stem cell sector, contrary to many reports.

The court decided that treatments or other processes created using stem cells from human embryos could not be patented.

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Stem cells are very basic sells that have the ability to develop into any other type of cell in the body. Scientists think they could be used to develop treatments for a variety of diseases from Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis to diabetes and heart disease.

Montgomerie said that, with patents no longer available, companies working in Europe would now look to keep their technology as “trade secrets”. That differs from the US, she said, where companies will pour lots of information into their patents.

Montgomerie added: “It’s definitely still possible for companies to operate under both regimes, but you have to put a lot more thought into what details you chose to reveal. Scotland Development International does a good job of promoting Scotland abroad but there’s always more that we could all being doing.”

Mike Capaldi, the commercialisation director at Edinburgh BioQuarter, the project to bring industry, academia and the health service closer together, said his staff was already promoting Scotland.

He said: “We have a business development team focused on building relationships with global bio-pharmaceutical companies looking to collaborate and invest in techniques.”