Success Stories

IP trading helps non-invasive prenatal diagnostic tests benefit medical industry worldwide

Recently in 2012, CCP Chairman Hu Jintao personally handed the "Trieste Award" (Ernesto Illy Trieste Science Prize) to Prof. LO Yuk Ming Dennis, Professor of Medicine and Head of the Department of Chemical Pathology of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, for his 1997 pioneering discovery of fetal DNA inside the plasma of pregnant women. He carried out a non-invasive prenatal diagnostic tests, followed by successful intellectual property trading to obtain a patent license in the United States, and starting in 2011 carried out over 60,000 tests in the US, Europe, China, and Hong Kong at institutions such as Charity Hospital, Baptist Hospital, and Prince of Wales Hospital, reaching far out into the global medical and scientific community.

"No matter how busy work is, it is always worth spending time on IP transactions" says Prof. Lo. Although professors and doctors are frequently busy, it is worthwhile to apply for patents and engage in IP trading in order to generate revenue to continue research and ensure seeing the final results.

He recalls in 1997, when he first began to engage in maternal fetal DNA research, thinking "If you can detect cancerous tumor DNA from the plasma of cancer patients, then you should be able to learn about the fetus from the DNA found in maternal plasma. After discovering that the plasma of pregnant women was rich in fetal DNA, I began to carry out non-invasive prenatal diagnostic tests and applied their results to perform research on Down’s syndrome.

He explains that Down’s syndrome is a relatively common chromosomal disorder occurring in about one in 700 infants, with risk rising to about 1% in women over 40. Down’s syndrome is typically identified by the presence of an extra 21st chromosome.

He continues to explain the general prenatal diagnosis contains two steps, the first being a noninvasive screening to find indirect indicators associated with Down’s syndrome, such as the thickness of the subcutaneous fetal neck. "Although the screening program carries no risk there is a false positive rate of 5%, so for most cases there isn’t really a problem. The extraction of fetal placental tissue or water tests is necessary to detect fetal chromosomes, but the piercing element of this procedure carries a miscarriage rate of about .5%, meaning many prospective parents are faced with a dilemma."

Prof. Lo says that after years of effort, his research team was able to use gene sequencing methods to distinguish each chromosome from DNA fragments taken from plasma, lowering the false positive rate to .1%, maintaining a sensitivity of 99.5%, and a success rate of 99%.

"In order to protect my progress I have applied for 20 patents since 1997". He mentions thereafter he licensed his IP through an international agency, which didn’t facilitate any technological breakthroughs until 2005. He went to Pattaya, Thailand to attend a medical conference where he was introduced to a US company and exchanged his IP with them. All of a sudden things took off and they launched a seven year project called "敏兒安 T21" (Maternity 21), consisting of non-invasive prenatal diagnostics meant to reduce the risk of traditional diagnostics. This technology first started in 2011 in the US, Europe, China, and Hong Kong, at places such as Charity Hospital, Baptist Hospital, Prince of Wales Hospital, etc. and is widely used, with test subjects amounting to over 60,000.

He points out that IP trading does not consist purely of transactions like buying and selling. Instead it involves IP intermediaries for a wide variety of services support. An international city such as Hong Kong has a comprehensive scope of these professional services, and combined with the professional level of healthcare, a good international reputation, IP trading and obtaining patents in Hong Kong is very convenient.

In fact, Prof. Lo began his research before completing his undergraduate studies, more focused on patenting his own findings than studying, and in recent years he won a number of international awards including fellowships at the Royal Society, the Royal Academy in Edinburgh, the Royal Academy of Pathology, the Cheung Kong Achievement Award Prize, etc. His success is the result of many steps of work rather than an accident or fluke.

Prof. Lo said with a smile, "the path of science is by no means a straight one". Starting with his studies at Oxford University, he worked through "costly mistakes" for 9 years. "I was committed to finding fetal cells in maternal plasma, and after a long time with no progress I finally returned to Hong Kong. Only after that point did I make my breakthrough achievement." Looking ahead, Prof. Lo says in addition to prenatal diagnosis of clinical services he also hopes to extend his use of gene sequencing and identification technologies to other medical fields, or to further build upon the research of cancer diagnostics.

If there is any inconsistency or ambiguity between the English version and the Chinese version, the Chinese version shall prevail.