The Max Planck Institute has announced that it has signed a research collaboration and license agreement with Fovea Pharmaceuticals, the Ophthalmology Division of Sanofi, to identify and develop innovative solutions for restoring vision in patients suffering from diseases affecting the retina. As part of the three-year research collaboration agreement, Fovea’s team will work with the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics to advance their understanding application of retinal binding channelrhodopsins.
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Since 1997 Chinese based inventors have slowly increased their filing for biopharmaceutical-related patents with the American USPTO, reaching a peak in 2003. While the proportion of Chinese inventors filing for biotechnology-related patents with the USPTO remain small by comparison with the USA and other developed countries, and are behind other emerging countries such as South Korea and India, they have been increasing over time and show interesting geographic concentrations. Silico Research’s analysis of the USPTO database shows that at least 29 per cent of the biopharmaceutical patents filed by Chinese based inventors are being assigned to university and research based institutes. Over 34 per cent of the Chinese inventors filing with the USPTO for biotechnology only-related between 1992 and 2007 were based in Beijing, while 17 per cent were in Shanghai and 16 per cent in the Hong Kong region. Just under 42 per cent of the patents were in the field of antibody technology. The proportion of Chinese inventors who filed patents relating to stem cell technology was low at only 7 per cent.
The high proportion of patents filed by inventors based in Beijing may in part be a reflection of the strength of universities in the city. Many of the Chinese inventors are assigning their patents to universities based in Beijing, including Beijing Medical University, Tsinghua University and Peking University. Beijing is also known as a centre for innovative entrepreneurs and has a large number of high-growth start-ups and Chinese and foreign venture capital firms. Alongside the large construction of facilities for hosting the 2008 Olympic games Beijing is becoming a hub for biotechnology development, with the establishment of the Chinese Biotechnology Center, a new two-million-square-foot project which is set to house key Chinese government agencies as well as biopharmaceutical companies, with a ratio of about 70% to 30% for Western pharma to local traditional Chinese medicine companies.
The strong presence of Shanghai’s inventors in the USPTO database is not surprising given the city’s strength as a financial and trade centre in China, its highly educated workforce and its strong links with the western world. Like Beijing, Shanghai’s also has a large number of important universities, including Shanghai Medical University, Shanghai Cancer Institute, Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica and Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry which are both part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the city. All four of these institutions were listed as having been assigned biopharmaceutical-related patents in the USPTO database. Both the Max Planck and Institute Pasteur have opened outposts in Shanghai, bringing a European academic presence to the place. The city also has the Shanghai Zhangjiang High-tech Park, one of the most successful government sponsored 20 science parks in the country and home to more than 100 domestic and international biopharmaceutical companies and central research organisations. A number of multinational pharmaceutical companies have or are currently setting up research and development centres in the city, including AstraZeneca, Novartis, Roche and Pfizer.
The proportion of inventors resident in Hong Kong filing for biotechnology-related patents at the USPTO is almost as high as Shanghai. Half-an-hour to the mainlaind, Hong Kong is already a well-known international financial and business centre and has a long tradition of strong intellectual property protection. In addition to these assets, Hong Kong is bilingual and the local government is investing $1.5 million to build a Hong Kong Science Park in the area. It is home to Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the University of Hong Kong, two universities which have been assigned a large number of biopharmaceutical patents in the USPTO.
Chinese companies who are listed in the USPTO database as have been assigned biopharmaceutical related patents by Chinese inventors include Capital Bio Corporation, a spin-out company based in Beijing founded in 2000 by Tsinghua University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Academy of Military Medical Sciences specialising in biochips, high throughput screening, disease diagnostics and pharmagenomics; Hainan Life Nourishing Pharmacy Co, a company based in Haikou City focused on developing new compounds; Jiangsu Kanion Pharmaceutical Co Ltd, an ethical drug manufacturer headquartered in Liangyungang City; Nanning Maple Leaf Pharmaceutical Co Ltd which is WEX Medical Limited’s research and development and manufacturing facility based in Nanning; Wex Medical Limited a company with branches in Beijing and Hong Kong which is dedicated to the discovery, development, manufacture and marketing of therapeutics for acute and chronic pain; Shanghai Xing Ling Science and Technology Pharmaceutical Co Ltd, a division of Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group which is dedicated to the development of drugs from natural extracts; and Shanghai Jiao Da Onlly Co Ltd, one of the first healthcare companies publicly listed in China and actively engaged in the manufacture and sales of biological and medical products.
The degree to which the number of Chinese inventors filing for biopharamceutical-related patents at the USPTO in the future remains uncertain. The number of Chinese patents filed with the USPTO could increase with the Chinese government’s increasing investment to entice Chinese scientists trained abroad back to China, such as the setting up of science centres where they can work and the offer of special grants and other incentives. In 2000 slightly more Chinese scientists returned to China than left the country, shifting for the first time a reverse trend, but overall the number of scientists returning remains small. Official Chinese statistics show that in 2005 under a quarter of Chinese scholars trained abroad had returned. The importance of patenting with the USPTO could rise with the lure of selling more and more biopharmaceutical products abroad and the need for the Chinese to show they are serious about the regulation of intellectual property.