Advances in sequencing technology over the last decade have resulted in the production of an astonishing amount of data. It is therefore rather surprising to hear about the discovery of a new polypeptide hormone, asprosin, in humans, where the genome sequence has been available since 2001.
The discovery of asprosin came from an investigation of a very rare condition, neonatal progeroid syndrome, which causes sufferers to have unhealthily low levels of fat. It is thought that the hormone plays an important role in determining blood sugar levels, particularly between meals, and it is on this basis that it has been proposed as having a potential utility in the treatment of type 2 diabetes and obesity.
As a patent attorney I am often informed that there is little incentive within the pharmaceutical industry to research rare diseases as any resulting therapy is unlikely to be profitable, particularly in view of the huge costs associated with clinical trials. The discovery of asprosin therefore comes as a welcome reminder that significant discoveries and inventions can arise from the most unexpected fields of research. Perhaps we should all remember that you can’t always predict what you’ll find when you embark on a new project; good research will, more often than not, throw up new and exciting developments.
The discovery of new polypeptide hormone is also interesting from a patent perspective, particularly in view of Court decisions in the US and Australia, where it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain protection for inventions based on naturally-occurring molecules. Inventors and applicants are facing difficult challenges in these countries to get protection for their inventions that is commensurate with their contribution to the art. However, the law never stands still and we can only hope that the balance swings back towards the inventors in due course – how else can we motivate the industry to continue to invest in research that may result in wonderful breakthroughs that benefit us all?