Press release | 20.6.2019
Vienna/Munich, 20 June 2019 - The European Patent Office (EPO) today honoured French immunologist Jérôme Galon with the European Inventor Award 2019 in the "Research" category at a ceremony held in Vienna. Galon has developed a diagnostic cancer test based on a patient's immune response that enables doctors to have a more complete picture of the person's disease, and, as a result, provide more effective, targeted therapies.
Galon's invention, licensed by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and brought to market under the name Immunoscore® by the company he co-founded, counts the number of positive immune cells of a patient at the site of their tumour. It is used at clinics around the world to predict the risk of relapse in patients with colorectal cancer.
"Jérôme Galon's invention has had a major impact in the field of oncology," said EPO President António Campinos. "It has already prompted the re-examination of cancer classification schemes and could ultimately give rise to new treatments. By launching a start-up and successfully using patents to commercialise his invention, Galon is bringing the technology to market so that his research efforts can make a difference where it counts most - in helping people."
Today's European Inventor Award ceremony at the Wiener Stadthalle was attended by some 600 guests from the fields of intellectual property, politics, business, science and academia. The Award is presented annually by the EPO to distinguish outstanding inventors from Europe and around the world who have made an exceptional contribution to society, technological progress and economic growth. The finalists and winners in five categories (Industry, Research, SMEs, Non-EPO countries and Lifetime achievement) were selected by an independent international jury from a pool of hundreds of inventors and teams of inventors put forward for this year's award.
Jérôme Galon has broken new ground in cancer diagnostics by showing the impact that a patient's immune system has on successfully fighting the disease. "When I started working on cancer, the field was mostly focused on tumour cells," the inventor says. "But as an immunologist it was clear to me that the immune system plays a major role as well. By knowing how active his or her immune system is, we can predict if a cancer patient is at high risk or low risk of recurrence. This enables doctors to not only classify cancers more precisely, but also to give patients the most effective therapies, without over-treating them."
Following many years of intense research, Galon developed an in-vitro diagnostic tool that quantifies the immune response of cancer patients. Called Immunoscore, it works by analysing a small tissue sample surgically removed from the primary tumour of a patient. It monitors the cancer site, counting immune 'cytotoxic' T cells, which destroy cancerous or virally-infected cells. The more of these immune cells are found in tumours, the better the patient's chances of survival. To conduct the test, a specialised scanner takes digital images of the tumour sample on which the software counts the number of positive immune cells. An algorithm then calculates an overall Immunoscore for the patient based on T cell concentrations. This provides doctors with greater insight into both the severity of the cancer, and the risk of patients relapsing and dying in different stages of treatment.
Galon filed his initial patent application for Immunoscore in 2005. More patent applications followed for many other aspects of the invention, and the French researcher is now named as inventor on 15 European patents. To bring his test to market, Galon co-founded the Marseille-based company HalioDx as a spin-off in 2014 and currently serves as chairman of its scientific advisory board. "It is very rewarding to transform basic research into real life," he says. The company currently has some 160 employees and licenses Galon's Immunoscore patents from INSERM.
Speaking about patents, the inventor says that the company was supported by venture capital from the start and investors looked hard at how deep and broad their patents were. "Without the patents I would not have been able to raise the capital needed," Galon says.
Galon, who trained as an immunologist at the Pasteur Institute and the Curie Institute in Paris, received his PhD in immunology from Jussieu University in Paris in 1996. After working as a postdoctoral researcher at the National Institutes of Health in the US, Galon returned to Paris in 2001 to run a research group funded by INSERM. Today he is Director of Research at INSERM and head of the Laboratory of Integrative Cancer Immunology at the Cordeliers Research Center.
Clinics around the world now use the Immunoscore scanner with patients with colorectal cancer, where it has shown a 95% likelihood of predicting the overall survival of people with this form of cancer. The company has also launched a lung cancer test, and the inventor hopes that it can be used on many types of cancer in the future. Thanks to Galon's invention, doctors can now apply a greater level of accuracy when selecting, dosing, and otherwise tailoring treatments to individual patients.
The European Inventor Award is one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes. Launched by the EPO in 2006, it honours individual inventors and teams of inventors whose pioneering inventions provide answers to some of the biggest challenges of our times. To qualify for the Award, all proposals have to meet specific criteria, including the requirement that the inventor had to have been granted at least one European patent for their invention by the EPO. The finalists and winners in five categories are selected by an independent jury of international authorities in the fields of business, politics, science, academia and research who examine the proposals in terms of their contribution towards scientific and technological progress, society, economic prosperity and job creation in Europe. The winner of the Popular Prize is chosen by the general public from among the 15 finalists by online voting in the run-up to the ceremony. This year's 15 finalists were selected from hundreds of proposals put forward by members of the public, national patent offices around Europe, and EPO staff.
With nearly 7 000 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Headquartered in Munich with offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna, the EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO's centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in up to 44 countries, covering a market of some 700 million people. The EPO is also the world's leading authority in patent information and patent searching.
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