New patent insight report on mRNA technologies

The series of patent insight reports continues with the recent release of an exciting new report. 

The EPO regularly publishes patent insight reports on specific technical areas with potential to develop faster than others. Patent data is analysed with examiners and experts in the technical area and the resulting patent insight report is then published on the EPO website, sometimes accompanied by additional support materials, such as data sets and the like. 

The EPO has just recently published a new one of these reports, this time on mRNA technologies. The ninth in the series and the second to look at the medical sector, this latest report is intended to provide an overview of important patent trends in the field of mRNA-based vaccines, which is a particularly dynamic sub-area of mRNA technologies. 

Why are these technologies so important? mRNA – short for messenger ribonucleic acid – is an indispensable molecule in the clockwork of human and other cells. In the cells, it mediates the transfer of genetic information from the cell nucleus to the cytoplasm, where the information is translated into proteins by ribosomes and transfer RNA (tRNA). Proteins are crucial in human and animal organisms and contribute to the growth, maintenance and structure of tissues, to cell signalling and the immune system and, as enzymes, to biochemical processes in the body. mRNA technologies build on tailored mRNA to trigger cells to produce specific proteins, which may be useful in several medical applications. There is growing potential for mRNA-based drugs to address a wide range of diseases, from genetic and infectious diseases to various forms of cancer. 

The new patent insight report summarises the results of patent analyses related to mRNA-based vaccines which were carried out jointly by subject-matter specialists and patent knowledge experts at the EPO, using publicly available patent information drawn from the EPO’s databases of worldwide patent data. The methodology on which the report is based can be used freely, and the EPO encourages interested users to adapt the chosen search and analysis approach to their own needs, for example to follow trends and developments in other established or emerging technical fields. 

The patent analyses yielded interesting results, including the area's dynamic development in the recent past. Although the number of inventions in the field of mRNA-based vaccines is still rather low, it has increased steeply over the last decade at a significantly higher rate than is generally observed across all fields of technology combined. The figure below shows the development in the number of what are called international patent families relating to mRNA-based vaccines and in the total number of these families for all technical fields combined, presenting it by year in which the underlying inventions were made publicly available for the first time and so were able to influence the activities of competitors and other researchers. 

Graphic showing an upward trend in recent years in the number of international patent filings per year for mRNA-based vaccines.Fig. 1: Number of international patent filings per year for mRNA-based vaccines 

International patent families group together patent documents relating to the same or similar inventions and published by two or more patent authorities. It is generally assumed that patent applicants attribute greater economic potential to the underlying inventions of these patent families, and that they tend to seek more extensive commercialisation from a geographical point of view. 

The most active applicants in the field of mRNA-based vaccines are companies and universities based in the United States, Europe and China. Top of the list are Moderna and CureVac, two companies that have submitted patent applications for a wide range of vaccines, whereas other active applicants have tended to remain focused on a specific target for vaccination, such as a particular pathogen or cancer. 

In view of the high momentum in the field of mRNA-based vaccines and the high number of exciting inventions in this area, the EPO intends to update this report in the future and to extend it to cover other relevant mRNA technologies as well. 

Are you interested in more details? Then take a look at the brand-new patent insight report on mRNA technologies! Or read some of the other patent insight reports currently available. 

Keywords: Patent insight reports, mRNA technologies