Staking a claim

Published: Monday 30 June 2003

-- (Credit: EMKAY)sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is here to stay. So countries are now applying for patents on the sars virus .

The ones seriously trying to cash in are the us Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc), University of Hong Kong's commercial arm Versitech Limited and British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver. Once the patents are in place, the holders can charge a licensing fee from other researchers. In the 1980s, France and the us had similarly wanted to patent hiv; they got joint patent rights.

The organisations contend they want the virus to remain in the public domain and not hamper research on drugs, vaccines and diagnostic tests. But experts differ. They feel the step is likely to discourage independent research. "This would reduce the number of people studying the subject and delay a cure or vaccine," avers Beth Burrows, director, Edmonds Institute, a Washington-based non-governmental organisation. The patent is likely to be finalised after a couple of years. Meanwhile, researchers can continue working on the virus.

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