Cancer remains a global health threat despite advances in research and technology. According to the European Cancer Information System (ECIS), 31% of men and 25% of women are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in Europe before reaching the age of 75. The most common types of cancers in the UK are breast, lung, prostate, and bowel cancers, equivalent to over half of new cancer cases, according to Cancer Research UK. But over 5 million lives were saved in Europe alone thanks to inventions in oncology, and numbers show the acceleration of research can save even more.
The new European Patent Office (EPO) study, “Patents and Innovation Against Cancer”, reveals a remarkable 70% surge in cancer-focused inventions and technologies from 2015 to 2021, gauged by the proliferation of international patent families (IPFs). More than 140,000 cancer-fighting inventions have been disclosed in public patent documents over the past 50 years.
Enhancing accessibility, the study integrates a free-access online platform, “Technologies Combating Cancer”, that streamlines access for innovators in the field through pre-defined patent database searches. The platform includes not just the 140,000 inventions on which the study was based, but many more. This is the fourth such platform from the EPO, following those on coronavirus, clean energy technologies, and firefighting. Additionally, the EPO is updating its free tool, “Deep Tech Finder”, which maps almost 8,000 startups across Europe with patent applications. The tool now includes filters for 17 different cancer-related technologies, relating to 1,340 investment-ready startups in this field. This helps investors and potential partners discover valuable new cancer technologies within the deep-tech sector.
The study finds that in the last decade, the UK has doubled its number of cancer-related patent applications, rising to second place in Europe, contributing to 15% of all IPFs from European applicants related to inventions in the fight against cancer. AstraZeneca was one of the three leading UK applicants between 2002 and 2021, ranking 10th among all applicants globally. In the field of cancer funding, Cancer Research UK is driving most of the public investment efforts, contributing 4.8% of global public investment.
EPO President António Campinos said: “The platform we’re launching today can play a significant role in helping to curb cancer by empowering scientists with technical information and insight to further their research and support them in bringing forward new technologies that can save lives. Here in Europe, we’re in second place when it comes to developing cancer-related technologies, but clearly, we can do much more. We have to do more, especially considering that there is predicted to be an increase in the number of cancer diagnoses in the coming years. We have to do more.”
How these inventions make their way to the market is changing. The study also points out a possible shift over the last two decades. Universities, hospitals, public research organisations, and start-ups are playing an increasingly important role. Among the main universities and research centres in the UK, both Oxford and Cambridge universities ranked in the top five.