Guest blog written by John Dean, partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogers LLP.
Life sciences and biotech research clusters across the UK, including those linked to university research departments are benefiting from an improved funding climate and ongoing consolidation in the pharmaceutical sector. However, as big pharma companies increasingly vie for the best spin-out investment opportunities, those with strategic intellectual property plans are likely to find favour.
Improving access to venture capital in particular, is allowing biotech companies to take their research past the initial stages and turn it into an attractive investment proposition for big pharma. Strategic intellectual property plans are nonetheless critical and underpin any investment decision.
Big pharma is struggling to develop new drugs at a rate quick enough to fill their pipeline, given that this process typically can take up to 15 years. As a result, cluster companies find themselves in a strong position to attract investment in exchange for providing a ready-made pipeline of candidate drugs to replace some of the blockbusters that are currently losing their 20-year patent protection. To benefit, however, cluster companies must have a robust patent strategy in place. Without it, they could miss out on investment opportunities.
In particular, when seeking patent protection, biotech companies need to get the timing right, which can be a difficult balancing act. File for protection too early and too few trials may have been conducted to provide a strong IP position, leaving only a limited window for any amendments to the original application. However, it is also essential not to file too late, as this could lead to the business being usurped in the race for patent protection and put off potential investors.
Backed by a strong IP position, the improved funding climate is enabling some cluster companies to complete early stage research trials and hold out for longer to secure a better investment deal.
Cluster companies still rely on big pharma investment to fund full clinical trials, which are simply beyond their budgets. To get to this stage, however, they must plan ahead and have an IP strategy in place that provides protection in key global markets.