Last week DNA Digest took a trip out of the Wayra hub to hear an expert panel discuss the role and future of patenting in biomedical research. The Talkscience: Patently Obvious? talk and discussion was part of the British Library‘s Science events and was chaired by Professor Jackie Hunter (Chief Executive of the BBSRC) with guest speakers, Professor Alan Ashworth (Institute of Cancer Research), Dr Nick Bourne (Cardiff University) and Dr Berwyn Clarke (Biomedical Entrepreneur).
The evening raised a number of interesting issues surrounding patenting in biomedical research but overall the opinions presented were rather moderate. It seemed that everyone was in agreement that there was no clear answer when it comes to patenting, particularly given the nature of biomedical research. Although the panel agreed that patents could hinder research developments, for example by stifling the ability to analyse our own DNA (Professor Ashworth), they could not provide an alternative method through which to fund the research and protect commercial interests. Ultimately, to scrap patents makes research involving hundreds of millions of pounds far too financially risky, particularly, as highlighted by Dr Bourne, when much of the future of the UK is based on a science or knowledge based economy. The economic importance of patenting in biomedical research was echoed by Dr Clarke, who raised the point that the use of intellectual property underpins the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries in the UK.
Interesting points were raised by the audience on the disclosure of trials which had failed. The panel seemed to agree that increased openness was needed in biomedical research to increase public confidence in companies. They even suggested that non-competitive data be made available online.
The overall message was that patents in biomedical discovery and invention are here to stay, but that society should have a bigger involvement in the process, and that communication should be increased.
You can find more events from the British Library in their Beautiful Science series.