Jack Ellis

IP advocacy group Ideas Matter showcased the pivotal role of IP in the development of cancer treatments at an event in London today. Representatives from a number of companies active in the field of cancer diagnostics attempted to counter the arguments put forward by IP sceptics by explaining the importance of IP to funding, product development, cross-industry collaboration and ultimately improving the quality of life for cancer sufferers.

Dr Deryk Williams, chief medical officer of Anaxsys, highlighted the importance of IP to securing investment for the development of medical devices such as his company’s lung cancer diagnostic technology. “It’s a fairly simple equation,” he said. “If there’s no IP, there’s no significant investment in the company.” The company’s three patents and considerable knowhow would lead to the creation of around 200 jobs in the UK if commercialisation of the technology is successful, he added.

Building on the theme of collaboration, Amgen’s director of regulatory affairs, R&D policy, Dr Virginia Acha, predicted that cooperation between companies will become much more commonplace as the pharmaceutical industry moves away from the blockbuster model and towards ‘personalised medicine’ that is far more highly targeted towards smaller groups of patients. “No single company has all the necessary diagnostics and therapies,” she said.

PhilipsMaaike van Velzen explained how landscaping patent holdings in the oncology space has assisted her company in discovering potential partners. “It helps us to form consortia, by looking at the strengths of different parties in different fields and seeing if we might be able to form a strong relationship with them,” she said. “It helps us to see where the emphasis has been and where the major R&D investment has taken place.”

Critics of the IP system argue that IP rights give their owners too much power, since they are used to exclude rivals from the marketplace and reduce competition. But the facilitative qualities of IP, as an enabler of collaboration and open innovation, are all too often overlooked. “Sometimes, our IP strategy is about creating exclusivity for ourselves,” van Velzen admitted. “But other times – and this is particularly true in the case of healthcare – our IP strategy is more about sharing our IP and cooperating with partners.”

Talking to IAM after the event, Acha suggested that the pro-IP, anti-IP debate has lost sight of what the IP system was originally created for. “IP is there to give a governance structure – it’s not there to bias one party against another,” she said. “Without the framework that it provides, you can end up in very difficult waters if you want to collaborate with another organisation. The benefit of having a patent in this field is that hopefully someone else developing a similar technology will see it and say, ‘hey, that will work over here!’.” When that happens, she stated, parties can collaborate, resulting in reduced costs and a quicker time to market for all involved, while at the same time each can protect their own stake in the technologies being developed and ensure that their investors get a return.

Those calling for the weakening – or even, in some cases, abolition – of IP rights should have been there today. The event may have forced them to rethink what can often be a knee-jerk position. The simple fact is that a whole host of life-saving technologies might never see the light of day if it were not for the financing and collaboration facilitated by IP. No-one in their right mind wants that to happen, do they?