New study shows inventions to fight cancer are up by more than 70% since 2015

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Ahead of World Cancer Day, the EPO has just released a new study, which finds that innovation in the fight against cancer has surged by 70% between 2015 and 2021.

According to the European Cancer Information System (ECIS), 31% of men and 25% of women are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in the European Union before reaching the age of 75. Therefore, the development of new technologies, backed by multi-million-euro public funding programs, like the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, remain essential. Over 5 million lives were saved in the EU alone thanks to inventions in oncology (Dalmartello M. et al., 2022).

The latest study from the EPO finds that inventions in the fight against cancer has surged by 70% between 2015 and 2021, as measured by the number of international patent families (IPFs). The report establishes that more than 140 000 inventions combatting cancer have been disclosed to the public in patent documents for over the last 50 years. 

Key findings

The study aims to provide decision-makers and innovators with insights into patenting of cancer technologies worldwide. It describes where and what the most recent advances have been. The study’s key findings are:

  • There has been a significant surge of 70% for inventions against cancer since 2015. Between 2015 and 2021, the annual count of international patent families (IPFs) rose by more than 70%, equivalent to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.34% and exceeded 13 000 IPFs in 2021.
  • The US are a strong leader, accounting for nearly 50% of all IPFs from 2002 to 2021. The EU27 holds the second position with an 18% share, followed, at a distance, by Japan at 9%. 
  • Germany has maintained its position as a leading country of origin in cancer-related innovation, having led for over the past two decades, but UK, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands are catching up quickly.    
  • Universities and public research organisations (PROs) play an increasing role in cancer-related innovation. Between 2002 and 2021, they accounted for almost every third IPF in those technologies at the global level. 
  • Although top applicants have diverse geographical origins, patenting activities in cancer treatment are largely localised in the US.
  • The list of the top 10 global corporate applicants over the period 2015-2021 includes six European and four US companies. 

Innovation in cancer technology between 1971 and 2021


New platform to find technologies combatting cancer

This study is complemented by a free online platform, Technologies combatting cancer, that simplifies access for researchers and investors to technical information contained in relevant patent documents from anywhere in the world. The platform includes not just the 140 000 inventions on which the study was based, but many more besides. Examiners and data analysts from the EPO and ten national patent offices have contributed their expert knowledge to prepare over 130 datasets across four broad themes: prevention and early detection; diagnosis; therapies; and wellbeing and aftercare. Now scientists working in these critical areas can more easily explore the EPO’s trove of technical documents without needing prior experience in patent searching. The ten contributing patent offices are those in Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Türkiye. This is the fourth such platform from the EPO, following those on coronavirus, clean energy technologies and firefighting.

To help in the development and commercialisation of new technologies combatting cancer, the EPO is updating its free tool, the “Deep Tech Finder”, which maps almost 8 000 startups from all over 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 find European startups with valuable new cancer technologies in the deep tech sector.