Beijing: Scientists in the city at the centre of China’s virus outbreak have applied to patent a drug made by US company ‘Gilead Science Inc’ to treat the disease, possibly fuelling conflict over technology policy that helped trigger Washington’s tariff war with Beijing.
The government-run ‘Wuhan Institute of Virology’ said this week it applied for the patent in January along with a military laboratory.
An institute statement acknowledged there are ‘intellectual property barriers’ but said it acted to ‘protect national interests’.
Granting its own scientists a patent might give the Chinese government leverage in negotiations over paying for the drug. But it also might fuel complaints Beijing abuses its regulatory system to pressure foreign companies to hand over valuable technology.
The official ‘Xinhua News Agency’ said Thursday clinical trials of the drug, ‘remdesivir’, were due to start.
Gilead, headquartered in Foster City, California, said it applied in 2016 for a Chinese patent on use of ‘remdesivir’ against coronaviruses and is waiting for a decision.
The coronavirus family includes the novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, blamed for the outbreak in Wuhan.
“Gilead has no influence over whether a patent office issues a patent to the Chinese researchers,” said a company spokesman, Ryan McKeel.
“Their application has been filed more than three years after Gilead’s filing and will be considered in view of what is already known about the compound and pending patent applications.”
The institute said its application was filed January 21. Two days later, Chinese authorities suspended most access to Wuhan, a city of 11 million people.
That lockdown has expanded to surrounding cities and some in other provinces, isolating a total of about 60 million people in the most sweeping anti-disease measures ever imposed.
China has the right under World Trade Organisation (WTO rules to declare an emergency and compel a company to license a patent to protect the public. It would be required to pay a license fee that is deemed fair market value.