The number of non-European companies seeking to protect their inventions by registering a European patent is growing at an unprecedented rate. In 2014, about two thirds of patent filings to the European Patent Office (EPO) originated from outside of Europe – a clear indicator of Europe’s attractiveness as a technology marketplace.
Sumio Iijima, Akira Koshio and Masako Yudasaka
Discovery of carbon nanotubes, a super-strong, hyper-conductive material
Carbon nanotubes have electrical and thermal properties formerly unknown to man, inspiring a myriad of possible applications across chemistry, mechanics and optics
Material scientists, credited with the discovery and development of a fourth form of pure carbon
1000 times more conductive than copper - and harder than any substance known to man - carbon nanotubes are a window into the future. These miniscule cylindrical molecules could usher in a new era for super-fast computers, and form the basis of materials stronger than anything we have previously imagined. This discovery, led by Sumio Iijima at the NEC Corporation in Japan, shook the foundations of material science, as it added a fourth form in which pure carbon is known to exist. While credited with the discovery of carbon nanotubes, Iijima has pointed out that he shares this breakthrough with other scientists, who had previously observed the carbon variation but never fully pursued it. The cylinder-shaped carbon nanotubes, which can be single- or multi-walled, have electrical and thermal properties formerly unknown to man, inspiring a myriad of possible applications across chemistry, mechanics and optics. The carbon nanotube manufacturing industry is expected to grow to over $1billion by 2016, but we are only just scraping the surface of the possibilities.
Ian Frazer and Jian Zhou
Vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer
The vaccine is now being used in 120 countries, and the World Health Organisation recommends it as standard for all young women
Immunologists and cancer researchers, breaking the link between HPV and cancer
The vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) has revolutionised preventative care for cervical cancer. The vaccine offers full protection from the two HPV strands responsible for more than 70% of cervical cancers, hence successfully breaking this link. While working on the vaccine at the University of Queensland, Australian Immunologist Ian Frazer suffered a setback when the live virus proved impossible to grow in a laboratory. This problem was solved by Cambridge immunologist Jian Zhou, who successfully cloned the virus’ surface proteins onto a different virus to act as a template. Sadly, Zhou died in 1999 from hepatitis contracted in his native China, but Frazer continued their work and brought the vaccine to market under the name Gardasil. Since the launch in 2006, the vaccine is now being used in 120 countries, and the World Health Organisation recommends it as standard for all young women. The University of Queensland has waived royalties on vaccine sales in 72 developing countries, where most deaths from cervical cancer occur due to lack of preventive diagnostics.
Point-of-care devices, enabling up to 70 medical tests from a single drop of blood
Patients can be tested earlier and with more frequency, especially in countries where the cost, skills and conditions for conventional blood tests are prohibitive
Chemical engineer, developed a technique for easy, low-cost blood testing
Only a single drop of blood is required to perform up to 70 medical tests, and results are available immediately, thanks to the work of Elizabeth Holmes. The simplicity of this method enables patients to be tested earlier and with more frequency, especially in countries where the cost, skills and conditions for conventional blood tests are prohibitive. The testing device developed by Holmes and her team works by tapping the subject’s finger for a single drop of blood, making it a much simpler and cheaper way to screen blood, compared to traditional methods. Two methods are used to gain results from such a small sample: dilution, which enables a more complex analysis based on the concentration of substances; and detection, which gleans insights from photon activity. The American researcher started her work while studying chemical engineering at Stanford, and is now listed as co-inventor on over 270 patent applications. Holmes went on to found Theranos, which is now one of the top three commercial laboratory firms in the US.