04 June 2015

We May Be Seeing the Beginning of the First Pandemic Caused by Patents

We are seeing a major Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in Korea:
Two men have died of Middle East respiratory syndrome in South Korea, officials said Thursday. Theirs were the third and fourth confirmed deaths in what has become the largest outbreak of the virus outside the Middle East.

As fear spread, the government of President Park Geun-hye was accused of not doing enough to contain the outbreak and of endangering the public by withholding information about it.

At a news conference on Thursday, the influential mayor of Seoul, Park Won-soon, castigated the national authorities for not disclosing that a doctor at a Seoul hospital who was quarantined on Sunday with symptoms of the syndrome, known as MERS, had attended a gathering of more than 1,500 people in the southern part of the city only the day before.

More than 1,160 schools and kindergartens in South Korea have been shut down temporarily, and many Koreans are wearing surgical masks in public.
It has a fairly high mortality rate (about 40%, down from earlier estimates of over 50%), largely due to "co-morbitities" (Things like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, COPD, etc.).  The mechanism seems to involve a phenomenon known as HLH, which is one of the cytokine storm syndromes (the immune system going haywire), which causes edema in the lungs, and things like secondary pneumonia.

Historical note:  The lethality of Spanish Influenza was also largely caused this cytokine storm/pneumonia mechanism.  (Got your attention now?)

Note also that the cytokine storm tends to effect young adults more than the rest of the population. (I definitely have your attention now.)

One problem with dealing with what is (at this time) a small problem, is that, using purloined samples, the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam sequenced the virus, and filed a patent on the genome, preventing timely research on things like vaccines and antiviral medications:
In the ongoing investigation of the MERS virus, a team from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam received two patient samples from Dr. Ali Mohamed Zaki, an Egyptian scientist working in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. After sequencing the MERS DNA, EMC claimed ownership of the samples. EMC now requires scientists hoping to work on the MERS problem to sign legal agreements with Erasmus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still waiting to receive samples of MERS for testing that were collected in October 2012 because the legal teams from the CDC and Erasmus cannot negotiate agreeable terms for a material transfer agreement. As a result of these legal delays during a disease outbreak, Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, publicly criticized Erasmus for putting patent laws ahead of protecting "your people."
I have covered these issues here.

Labs cannot do research because the Erasmus Medical Center has this tied up in patents, even though it is an discovery, and invention which is what has traditionally been required for patents.

Right now, MERS, a coronavirus,  is not that contagious because, unlike some of its near relatives in that viral family like the common cold, because, unlike the cold, it lurks deep in the lungs, as opposed to the nose and sinuses, so coughing and sneezing out virus is far less likely.

At least, it's not that contagious right now. 

I don't know about you, but I'd like to see a vaccine, and perhaps some antiviral drugs, before it develops an affinity for sinus tissue, and starts behaving more like measles.

That cannot happen, because of our current insane patent regime.


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