Innovation is at the beating heart of medical technology


The medical technology industry continues to be one of Europe’s most diverse and innovative high-tech sectors. New technologies are combining material science, electronics, engineering and biochemistry. The common thread across these sectors is their beneficial impact on health, quality of life and society as a whole.
Through the annual European Inventor Award (read more at, the EPO recognises inspirational scientists and engineers who have created game-changing technologies. Many of the finalists and winners of this Award have been nominated for their outstanding contributions to the medical technology field. Here are three stories about some of the 2016 winners.

Helen Lee - Inventor of a rapid HIV test for developing countries

"I think the most important thing is to be useful in your life," says Helen Lee about her work. The Cambridge University researcher developed cost-effective, easy-to-use diagnostic kits for diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and chlamydia. Her company, Diagnostics for the Real World, a spin-off of the University of Cambridge, introduced the SAMBA diagnostic test in 2011. Since then it has been used to test around 40 000 patients for HIV in Malawi and Uganda.

SAMBA tests a blood sample for the viruses' genetic code and not the antibodies, as was done in previous tests. This allows HIV to be detected even in young children under 18 months or the viral load to be constantly monitored. SAMBA is robust, easy-to-use and delivers accurate results in minutes, enabling the kits to be deployed in countries without laboratory infrastructure or medically-trained personnel.

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Alim-Louis Benabid - Treatment for Parkinson's disease

Cross-disciplinary neurosurgeon and physicist Alim-Louis Benabid combined his two fields of study to develop a method of employing high-frequency electrical pulses to treat the muscle tremors associated with Parkinson's disease and other neurological illnesses. Already used to treat more than 150 000 patients worldwide since its approval, Benabid's deep brain stimulation technology allows people with Parkinson's disease to enjoy fulfilling, independent lives. "This is what rewards me the most," says Benabid, "to see that patients have regained quality of life." Alim-Louis Benabid's technology has become the clinical standard for the treatment of advanced Parkinson’s and conditions such as epilepsy, essential tremor, and involuntary muscle contractions known as dystonia.

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Robert Langer - Targeted anti-cancer drugs

Chemical and biomedical engineer Robert Langer pioneered a new therapeutic approach to fighting cancer by encapsulating anti-cancer drugs within biodegradable plastics. The technique has proven to be an excellent weapon against aggressive cancers and a range of other diseases. "You get high concentrations in the brain where you want them," explains Langer, "and low concentrations in the rest of the body where it might cause harm." Therapies derived from Langer's bioplastics are employed worldwide in cancer treatment, cardiovascular stents, and reconstructive surgery, and have benefited more than a million people. Robert Langer has founded more than 20 biotech companies and leads the world's largest biomedical research laboratory.

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Patenting trends

At the European Patent Office (EPO) we see new technical solutions described in patent applications long before products reach the market. The EPO's Annual Report 2015 (read more at showed that medical technology was, once again, the field with the highest number of patent applications. It was also one of the fastest growing sectors, with an increase of 11 percent over 2014 to 12,474. Other leading fields, such as digital communications and computing technology, both saw around 10,000 applications last year.

The ten-year trend in patenting in the field of medical technology has shown continued and steady growth. The high number of patent applications bears witness to the rapid pace of developments in this area over the last decade.

Image: Hand is drawing something with a red coloured pencil; Copyright: EPO


EPO service to business

Companies need to be sure of the business case for each invention before investing thousands of euros in patent applications. But when they get it right, the patents can attract investment, cement licensing deals and secure market share. For business wanting to understand their own technology market, the EPO offers online databases that have significantly improved transparency.

The EPO's free online Espacenet database (read more at includes over 90 million records from over 100 countries. It can be used to discover which technologies other companies are patenting, or to find new technology partners, suppliers and customers.

The European Patent Register (read more at provides information on the status or progress of existing European patent applications. This is especially useful to companies planning to file an application. It is also possible to file observations on pending applications which a company can prove are not new or inventive.

Patent Translate is another service offered by the EPO that enables instant machine translation of the main texts of patent applications in Espacenet in 32 languages.

All of this arms applicants with the best information about the future of their application, potentially avoiding costly investments.; Source: European Patent Office/Jeremy Philpott

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