Dutch scientists who took out a patent on the novel coronavirus that’s killed 22 people since emerging in Saudi Arabia last year defended the move after the Saudi Health Ministry said the patent was hindering the fight against the outbreak.
Albert Osterhaus and Ron Fouchier, virologists at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, said patenting the virus was a “normal thing to do,” and that they have shared it freely with more than 40 labs worldwide, in a phone interview from Rotterdam yesterday.
“We’re still sharing this virus with everyone who wants to do public health research,” Osterhaus said. The suggestion that the patent was impeding progress in public health was “definitely not the case,” he said.
Saudi Deputy Health Minister, Ziad Memish, told the World Health Assembly in Geneva earlier yesterday that the virus was sent from the country without proper permission, and that scientists outside the country had signed contracts with companies that make antivirals and vaccines, delaying the development of a diagnostic test. The assembly is the top decision-making body of the World Health Organization.
Osterhaus said no agreements have been signed with any companies, and “diagnostic tests were developed instantly and were made freely available immediately to anyone who asked for them.”For more on this issue, see this post at CIDRAP, as well as this morning's report on CBC Radio's The Current, and this post at Medical Daily.