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Centre for Law, Medicine and Life Sciences

Faculty of Law

Finding new therapeutic uses for existing medicines holds significant potential, since it is often faster to develop a drug for a new use if it is already known to be safe and well tolerated by the human body. Repurposing de-risked compounds with previously known therapeutic effects is also an attractive drug development strategy because it can potentially result in lower overall drug development costs and shorter timelines to market introduction. If successful, the public at large benefits from the repurposing of “old” drugs (known products) to treat more common and rare diseases.

An ongoing debate with pharmaceutical repurposing is whether the current intellectual property (IP) regime, particularly patent protection for medical uses of known compounds and substances, is hindering repurposing activity. This debate is taking place on both sides of the Atlantic, where commentators often argue that the patent system is failing to provide adequate incentives to promote innovation in the field of drug repurposing— medical use patents, they allege, are too difficult to obtain.

'European Patent Protection for Medical Uses of Known Products and Drug Repurposing', co-authored by Prof. Mateo Aboy, Prof. Kathy Liddell, Mr Matt Jordan, Dr Cristina Crespo and Dr John Liddicoat, builds upon the findings of a previous LML study to conclusively address the question of whether obtaining patent protection is hindering repurposing activity. It does this by:

  1. Comparing the number of medical use patents wit the number of EMA drug authorisations;
  2. Evaluating the number of jurisdictions in which patent protection is sought for newly authorised drugs
  3. Evaluating the coverage across therapeutic areas to ensure that there is adequate coverage rather than therapeutic concentration on specific diseases; and
  4. Evaluating indications of private value of these patents.

 This article is the eighth published in Nature Biotechnology by LML’s empirical-based IP research group. Previous papers include:

Empirical studies continue to be a core focus of LML research, and feature significantly in LML's contribution to the CeBIL research programme