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Chinese lab claims patent for US drug to treat coronavirus patients

A research institute in China's virus-hit Wuhan city has applied for a patent on the use of a drug made in the US after it was found to be effective in treating patients infected with the coronavirus, raising questions whether the lab's move violated the intellectual property rights.  

Written by: PTI Beijing Published on: February 05, 2020 18:13 IST
Chinese lab claims patent for US drug to treat coronavirus patients
Image Source : FILE

Chinese lab claims patent for US drug to treat coronavirus patients

A research institute in China's virus-hit Wuhan city has applied for a patent on the use of a drug made in the US after it was found to be effective in treating patients infected with the coronavirus, raising questions whether the lab's move violated the intellectual property rights.

As the coronavirus strain officially named as 2019 n-CoV wreaked havoc in China and abroad, there is a race to develop a viable medicine to treat an increasing number of cases as well as a vaccine to prevent its spread. In a breakthrough of sorts, US doctors treating a coronavirus patient early this month reported his successful recovery after treating with experimental antiviral drug Remdesivir.

This prompted China to announce immediate field trials to test the drug. China's National Health Commission on Monday said the drug trials were being carried out at multiple hospitals in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus outbreak.

Some 270 patients will take part in the study, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted China's thepaper.cn as reporting on February 3. Later, state-run Xinhua news agency reported quoting the Ministry of Science and Technology that a batch of antiviral drug Remdesivir, which will be put into clinical trials to test its efficiency on the coronavirus patients, is expected to arrive in China on Tuesday.

Remdesivir has been used to treat Ebola infections abroad, the report said.

Although the drug has not gone through all the procedures of clinical trials on the coronavirus abroad, it has shown fairly good vitro activity in related domestic research, Sun Yanrong, an official of the ministry, told a media briefing.

Besides Remdesivir, researchers have also selected from screening several existing drugs, including Chloroquine phosphate and Favipiravir, as well as some traditional Chinese medicines that contain active antiviral ingredients as drug candidates, for further animal experiments and clinical trials, Chinese health officials said.

Amid all this development, the Wuhan Institute of Virology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences said on Tuesday that its researchers discovered that two medicines - Remdesivir and chloroquine - could effectively inhibit the recently emerged coronavirus.

The institute said it has claimed for patent, triggering a debate on Chinese social media over whether the move violates intellectual property regulations (IPR), state-run Global Times reported on Wednesday.

Chloroquine is a medicine that has been used to deal with malaria since the 1940s. It has been sold in the Chinese market and can be independently provided, the institute said. Meanwhile, Remdesivir, GS-5734, a medicine developed by the US medicine producer Gilead, is in phase two and phase three clinical research into its effectiveness against the Ebola virus in Congo.

In order to protect national interests, the institute said that it applied to patent the discovery that Remdesivir can be used to deal with 2019-nCov and would apply for patents in other countries and regions through the Patent Cooperation Treaty. The institute called for foreign companies to withhold enforcing their lawful patent rights to help China fight against the coronavirus epidemic.

The Wuhan institute's patent application has triggered heated discussions on Chinese social media. Some questioned whether the institute is allowed to apply to patent a medicine made by a US company in China, citing Chinese companies' and institutes' notorious history in allegedly stealing foreign intellectual property, the daily said.

The alacrity with which Chinese firms and R&D institutes claim patents for foreign technology and discoveries had become a major friction between US and China over the years.

The IPR theft and China's emphasis on technology transfer is part of a trade war between the world's two top economies. US President Donald Trump had launched the trade war with China in 2018 demanding Beijing to reduce massive trade deficit. His demands included an intrusive verification mechanism to supervise Beijing’s promise to protect intellectual property rights, technology transfer and more access to American goods to Chinese markets.

The two countries signed phase one deal last month which reportedly contained provision for verification mechanism for IPR enforcement. 

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