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Malcolm Wicks MP, Minister of State for Energy
DTI Conference Centre, London, 01 March 2007
I am pleased to welcome you today on behalf of my colleagues in the Patent Office, the Department of Health and the DTI’s BioScience Unit. I would particularly like to thank representatives from the UK Genetic Testing Network for rearranging their schedule to attend this symposium.
At the DTI, we are committed to helping UK businesses respond to the challenge of globalisation. Healthcare is obviously and undoubtedly one of Britain’s leading industries. DTI research shows that the UK’s R and D activity in the pharmaceuticals sector is significantly higher than that of other EU nations and Japan. Obviously this is good news for the UK and this is encouraging, but we need to continuously increase our competitive edge. We are still behind America in our performance on innovation.
Intellectual Property provides the framework to capture the commercial value of knowledge in the innovation chain. The recent Gowers review on Intellectual Property in the UK makes it clear that in our knowledge-based economy, IP rights are more important than ever before. Intellectual property rights are not static - they are the currency of innovation. IP rights can be used dynamically - and they should incentivise innovators.
In this vein, the Patent Office is working with Richard Lambert at the CBI to develop IP templates for collaborations and licensing. These model IP agreements and licenses will be designed to make IP transactions more straightforward but also quicker - to enable faster deployment of technology. Similarly, the Department of Health has contributed to the production of guidelines by the OECD on the licensing of genetic inventions.
The National Health Service recognises that intellectual property has a role to play in its primary objective of delivering high quality patient care. The NHS National Innovation Centre was launched towards the end of last year to accelerate the uptake of medical technological innovation into the NHS and to support the management of IP coming out of the NHS. Its website offers innovators guidance on all the stages of product development. It is a pleasure to see many people here today from the NHS hubs.
The DTI’s Bioscience Unit has provided long-standing support for the Biotechnology Exploitation Platforms Challenge. This initiative brought together publicly funded research institutions to improve the management and exploitation of innovations arising from our world-class bioscience research. Since its launch in 1999, such Platforms have been established in England and Wales, involving some 80 research organisations - 50 Universities and some 30 NHS Trusts. At the last audit, 438 new patents had been filed, 276 new commercial licenses granted with an estimated lifetime value of some £50m. Over 100 new biotechnology start-up companies had been established securing private investment of £43m.
The types of medicines we use are changing. Biotechnology based medicines now occupy nearly one third of new medicines. This is estimated to rise annually at a rate of between 5 and 10 per cent over the coming decade. Regenerative medicine offers incredible potential for repair and fresh replacement of all tissues in the body. Nonetheless, the patenting of this new technology has raised concerns.
A critical step in harmonising and clarifying the patent framework in biotechnology was the adoption of the European Biotechnology Directive in British law at the beginning of this century. The Patent Office was instrumental in this process and followed it through by establishing clear policy guidelines on the patenting of stem cells . Recently, the Patent Office submitted a detailed brief on behalf of the UK government to the European Patent Office Enlarged Board of Appeal which is considering the patenting of human embryonic stem cells.
Good medicine relies on accurate diagnosis. Genetic diagnostics will also undoubtedly play an increasing role in health screening and in the delivery of therapeutics. Biochips the size of a thumbnail that hold nearly one million genetic probes are now on the market . Recently, work conducted by Professor Sandy Thomas’s Group at the University of Sussex shows that, while the intense phase of patenting of genes per se has declined significantly, there is still patent activity in other areas of genetics - for example in the emerging technology of RNA interference.
The government wants UK companies, universities and research organisations to use IP effectively - to contribute to a healthy economy and for the delivery of healthcare here in the UK. We are under no illusion that to marry these two objectives represents a significant challenge.
Some of you, our stakeholders, have raised concerns about the patenting of inventions used in genetic testing and stem cells. The biotechnology industry also rightly seeks the support of government to make sure it remains competitive. The government is carefully listening to these views. As a result, the Patent Office, the DTI’s BioScience Unit and the NHS National Innovation Centre have joined-up to bring you this symposium today.
It is particularly exciting that many of you at some stage in your careers will have had hands-on experience, at the bench, of the very technology which will be discussed. I hope you gain an appreciation that IP rights are dynamic - and when used appropriately - intellectual property rights can promote innovation and, indeed, facilitate collaborations.
The talks offer a wide range of interesting perspectives on IP. I sincerely hope that you can have lively and productive discussions in this afternoon’s workshops. We will collate the key points and feed them back to you and take them into account as we develop our policies.
We want the UK healthcare industry to continue to succeed and excel in the global economy. We want to improve the delivery of healthcare technologies for the benefit of patients. We want you to use IP effectively to achieve these aims.
Once again, it is a pleasure to host you at the DTI. Please enjoy the rest of your day here.