Can You Patent a Deadly Virus?
Interesting developments this week out of the ongoing effort to curb the latest SARS imposter, known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus. Several news outlets have reported that the Dutch scientists who originally identified MERS took the unusual extra step of filing a patent on one strain of the disease, presumably to lock up the market against any outside vaccines or cures.
The world was outraged. It’s unclear whether the legality of this move will hold up, as the new science of patenting genes and other biological materials remains in its controversial infancy. More clear is a near consensus that patenting a virus that has killed dozens to date is ethically wrong, and could stifle efforts at developing a cure.
Here’s the Verge:
Dutch scientists are facing criticism from international health officials for filing a patent on one strain of a deadly Middle Eastern virus, and now the World Health Organization has said it will investigate the matter. “No intellectual property should stand in the way of protecting your people,” said WHO Director General Margaret Chen at a health conference in Switzerland earlier this week, as Bloomberg reported.
Although the scientists claim they have shared their data with the world and hope that monetizing the process in this way will spur investment, the fact remains that they have created a winner-takes-all market around addressing a crisis the World Health Organization has called a “threat to the entire world.”
Consider this a counterbalance to last week’s measured look at cooperation between doctors and pharmaceutical companies. When it comes to this particular respiratory disease, the good guys and bad guys are a bit easier to spot.