Saturday 25 May 2013

Patenting MERS-CoV: no hindrance to diagnosis at all.

Edited by Dr. Katherine E. Arden

This is not the first newly identified virus that researchers at Erasmus, or elsewhere, have patented.

They did the same for human metapneumovirus (HMPV; an endemic respiratory virus and kin to respiratory syncytial virus) after describing its discovery and characterization in 2001.
Another broad-ranging patent also listed on Google is for the human coronavirus (HCoV) NL63, discovered in 2004 by other researchers. Patenting is part of business and today a portion of science research requires proof of the ability of researchers to work with business to help produce real outcomes. Mass-produced diagnostic kits are one outcome - they are made to high standards of quality and distributed worldwide. Research scientists can't do that alone.

Also, the existence of a patent does not prevent or even impede the medical research or public health efforts being undertaken for MERS-CoV now. It also didn't hinder research on HCoV-NL63 or HMPV back when they were discovered. Have a look atPubMED (the Google for scientific research articles) and see how for yourself. There are hundreds of papers there that cover all aspects of each virus - virological, clinical, immunological impact and epidemiology. As a publisher of some of those papers I can assure you I was not asked to pay a cent to the "inventors" and the slowest part of the publication process was my own writing.

Comments to the World Health Assembly today have been interpreted to suggest that a patent on the MERS-CoV has delayed the development of diagnostic tests.

In fact, the necessary parts for leading edge diagnostic testing - sequences for polymerase chain reaction primers - were made available by the researchers (easily contactable thanks to a ProMED posting) as soon as they were developed. They were next made public to the entire scientific community through very rapid publications in leading journals. There are more than 20 papers on the MERS-CoV, or HCoV-EMC as it was known, listed on PubMED already. All a professional, PCR-enabled, public health or research diagnostic laboratory has to do is eMail the discoverers or read the manuscripts and order the reagents.

A true absence of information is unquestionably an impediment to infectious disease research. We saw some great examples of unfettered information from China during the H7N9 outbreak this year. When key information is freely available, as it has been from Prof Zaki and the Dutch researchers at Erasmus for the MERS-CoV, we can rest assured that diagnostic developments are unhindered. Diagnostics are most useful though when they are used to report when and how cases of infection by a new virus occur and spread. Could that area be the next target for more public criticism?

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