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PATENTS / HUMANS: European patent on stem cells may be a possibility

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  European patent on stem cells may be a possibility
SOURCE: Uppsala University, Sweden
AUTHOR: Press Release, by Anneli Waara
DATE:   09.03.2007

European patent on stem cells may be a possibility

As long as the research meets the usual requirements for a patent,
isolated embryonic stem cells should be considered for both method and
product patents. This conclusion, which runs counter to the views of the
European Group on Ethics under the European Commission, was reached by
an interdisciplinary group at the Center for Bioethics at the Karolinska
Institute and Uppsala University in an academic article in the
international journal Stem Cells.

The article is the result of a unique collaborative effort involving
ethics researchers Mats G. Hansson and Gert Helgesson at the Center for
Bioethics, Richard Wessman at the Department of Law, Uppsala University,
and one of the world's leading stem cell researchers, Rudolf Jaenisch at
the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology.

"Our conclusion is that, in principle, stem cells can be patentable and
that this is consonant with ethical views that the human embryo should
enjoy special protection owing to its capacity to develop into a human
being. This will be of interest to a great many people," says Professor
Mats G. Hansson.

Research on embryonic and adult stem cells may yield new possibilities
for treating and curing diseases. At the same time, it is ethically
controversial, especially the use of stem cells from human embryos. The
possibility of patenting these cells has been excluded by several
instances, including several European patent authorities and the
European Commission's European Group on Ethics (EGE). According to the
EGE, only genetically altered stem cells or cells that have been further
developed into certain bodily parts can be eligible for patents. In
several European countries patents for stem cells are out of the
question, and the European Patent Organization, like various national
patent offices, has a wait-and-see policy.

"It was when I understood that people have failed to grasp that the
great challenge in stem cell research lies in taking the first step - to
succeed in getting the cells to survive in a culture medium - that I got
the idea for the article. If the cells survive, it will be in a form
that is completely different from their origin, so they should be
patentable," says Mats G. Hansson.

The great challenge for stem cell scientists is thus not primarily to
alter embryonic stem cells genetically or in some other way. The
difficult scientific and technological task is to get these cells to
survive in a laboratory environment in the first place, outside the
blastocyst cells they were taken from. To develop stem cells entails a
radical modification that is achieved by altering the various
environmental factors that make the cells grow - changes that
irreversibly break down the protective protein casing that surround the
cells' DNA. A cell isolated from a human embryo is therefore crucially
different from what it originally was.

The authors of the article thus conclude that isolated stem cells should
thus be eligible for both method and product patents as long as the
research meets accepted patent requirements, such as degree of invention
and industrial application. As regards the scope of such patents, a
conservative approach is proposed, to prevent individual patents from
hampering important research, which may be the consequence of two
patents granted in the U.S., with extremely broad exclusive rights.

Link to article:

Questions will be answered by Mats G. Hansson, phone: +46 (0)18-611 35
76; e-mail:

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