Knowledge & News

New report reveals innovation trends in treatments for rare diseases and widespread conditions

16 June 2015

London, UK / Philadelphia, PA, USA – The antibiotics market is at risk of losing another decade to inadequate levels of research and innovation, according to international intellectual property firm Marks & Clerk’s new report From rare to routine – medicines for rare diseases, vaccines and antibiotics, released today at the BIO International Convention 2015 in Philadelphia, USA. Research highlights the striking difference between research levels into rare diseases, vaccines and antibiotics across the globe.

The report, released today at BIO 2015, looks at patent filing trends in the rare diseases, vaccines and antibiotics markets over the last decade. Key findings in the three areas are listed below.


  • Less than five per cent of patents filed for antibiotic research since 2004 are directed towards new classes of antibiotics.
  • Patent filing levels are much lower than for rare diseases, although there has been a gradual year-on-year increase in numbers since 2009.
  • The top two filers of antibiotics patents (including both known and new classes) are Chinese companies: Tianjin Shengji Group and Shandong Xuanzhu Pharmaceutical Technology.
  • Universities are also playing a key role in antibiotic research with Universities of California and Texas third and eighth highest filers.

Rare diseases

  • World’s largest healthcare (“big pharma”) companies dominate top filers. Pfizer, Merck, Novartis and Johnson & Johnson are strongest (when subsidiaries’ filings are taken into account).
  • European companies are strong in this area, with Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Roche, Boehringer Ingelheim, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi all among top 10 filers. US companies and universities are also prevalent.
  • Filing numbers are consistently high and are now gradually increasing following a dip during the financial crisis, but are yet to recover to pre-2008 levels.


  • Public organisations are significant filers of vaccines-related patents, with the US Department of Health filing more than double the amount of any other filer. Harbin Veterinary Institute, Universities of California, Pennsylvania and Texas, and Institut Pasteur are among the Top 10 Filers.
  • Veterinary research organisations and companies are also present.
  • Chinese organisations have recently begun or increased filing programmes (Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, Pulai Ke Biological Engineering and Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences).
  • Seven times more patents are being filed for prophylactic vaccines than for therapeutic vaccines.

Dr Gareth Williams, European Patent Attorney and Partner at Marks & Clerk, comments:

“With research into new antibiotics classes averaging fewer than five per cent of total antibiotic research patents filed over the last 10 years, something has to shift in order to avoid losing another decade to the growing threat of antibiotic-resistance. What is more, in terms of patent filings, antibiotics research as a whole is clearly lagging behind research areas like rare diseases, where a huge number of patents are consistently being filed each year.

“The list of Top Filers in antibiotics research, which is topped by Chinese companies, shows that this has not been a priority area for big pharma over the last decade. Governments around the world are implementing strategy reviews as they look to confront the problem of antibiotic-resistance. We hope the results of these reviews, together with increasing public pressure and media attention, will result in an increase in research into antibiotics, particularly from big pharma. The USA is a clear leader in this area, but the statistics suggest it is less dominant than in rare diseases and vaccines, with China in particular innovating more and more.

“Medicines for rare diseases tell a wholly different story. No doubt in large part thanks to the government incentives put in place to encourage orphan drug research, the field is dominated by the world’s largest healthcare companies. Research in this area shows little sign of abating, with patent filing numbers gradually regaining their pre-financial crisis level.”

- ENDS -


A full copy of Marks & Clerk’s Life Sciences Report 2015: From rare to routine is available at:'s/Reports/Life-Sciences-Report-2015-From-rare-to-routine.pdf

An infographic showing the numbers of patents filed by the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies over the last decade in medicines for rare diseases, antibiotics and vaccines is available at:'s/Reports/Life-Sciences-Report-2015-From-rare-to-routine-Infographic.pdf

For further details, please contact:
Richard Holme

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