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MERS, Patents, and Material Transfer Agreements: What WHO Didn't Know

June 21, 2013
The outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), a SARS like virus has lead to some strong anti-IP statements in Geneva.  A recent article titled "Finding a Fall Guy for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome" in IPWatchdog provides context from multiple news sources and concludes:

"An independent review of the claims that patents and the [Material Transfer Agreements] are hindering international MERS-COV research appeared in a May 28, 2013 story in Science Insider. Here’s the lead:

Are Dutch scientists hampering the fight against a lethal new coronavirus by patenting the virus and making it needlessly difficult for other scientists to study it? Accusations to that effect were flying last week at the World Health Assembly (WHA), the annual meeting of the world’s health ministers in Geneva, Switzerland. Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), used strong words in an apparent attack on virologist Ron Fouchier and his colleagues at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

But there is nothing unusual about the arrangement under which Fouchier has shared samples of the virus, several scientists and an intellectual property expert tell Science Insider. And so far, nobody has offered concrete examples of how the legal arrangements have slowed down research. The criticism is “completely unjustified,” says Christian Drosten, a virologist at the University of Bonn in Germany who has developed diagnostic tests for the virus. “Nothing was blocked.”

Further, The Financial Times began a May 24, 2013 story on the controversy this way: “Leading international research groups have cast doubts on claims from Saudi Arabia that patenting of a lethal new virus first identified in the Gulf hinders diagnosis of patients.”

The article adds: “Public Health England said its speed in developing a diagnosis within 10 days of the discovery of the second infection and sharing it with the international community was ‘unprecedented’ and not impeded by patenting.”

Click here for the full story.