TWN Info Service
on Health Issues (Aug08/04)
centre lays patent claim related to bird flu virus
Bogota, 14 Aug (Edward Hammond*) -- In a development that is likely to raise more pressing questions about reform of the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance Network (GISN), an international patent application has surfaced in which the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and US National Institutes of Health claim ownership of Indonesian influenza genes.
A recent patent search has revealed that the CDC, which is a WHO collaborating centre, is applying for a patent for a new vaccine against influenza, particularly for bird flu (H5N1). The vaccine incorporates genes from a H5N1 strain isolated from an Indonesian human victim of bird flu in 2005.
strain that contains the genes was transferred to the WHO GISN by
application was first lodged in the
The patent application claims a new vaccine against influenza, particularly for Bird Flu (H5N1). The vaccines incorporate one to four genes from a H5N1 strain isolated from an Indonesian human victim in 2005 (denominated A/Indonesia/5/05).
patent application also claims similar vaccines that incorporate genes
of flu strains from
The vaccine is of a new type called a DNA vaccine. These stimulate the immune system like others vaccines, except instead of using a traditional approach, such as injecting a dead virus, they consist of lengths of genetically engineered DNA called plasmids. This type of vaccine is under development in a number of biotech labs.
has eight genes in total, so the
The patent application raises specific questions about the US CDC, which is a WHO Collaborating Centre for influenza virus studies. The WHO Collaborating Centres receive influenza viruses from donor countries for public health characterization purposes, and not for the purposes of making proprietary claims.
question of WHO Collaborating Centres asserting patents related to WHO
system viruses has been raised repeatedly in the PIP IGM's deliberations.
In addition to the US CDC, there is evidence that another US-based WHO
Collaborating Centre, St. Jude Children's
to sources, in a closed session at the WHO Interdisciplinary Working
Group on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness, convened in
In addition to ownership of this patent application, the US CDC website lists several proprietary H5N1-related technologies for sale, raising further questions about CDC's handling of WHO GISN influenza materials.
In the DNA vaccine patent application, the vaccine bearing the Indonesian H5N1 genes is the exemplary embodiment, and the application's front page focuses on a large graphic with "A/Indonesia/5/05" in the title.
issue that may raise concerns is that, according to the application,
In total, the application designates over 100 states, including most Latin American, African, and Asian countries. In practice, patent applicants do not always follow through on all such national designations.
As was recently discussed at the WIPO Symposium on Public Policy Patent Landscaping in the Life Sciences (Geneva, 7-8 April), however, information on the national phase of most patent applications is publicly unavailable, and WIPO's own PatentScope database only reflects national phase applications in a few dozen countries.
A major component of the GISN, which is the WHO's present influenza virus sharing system, are the four WHO Collaborating Centres (the CDC based in the US, and other centres in the UK, Australia and Japan) which are tasked with conducting various assessments on flu viruses given by influenza affected countries, for public health purposes.
However, in the recent past, confidence in the system has been undermined as it has been revealed that some of the viruses collected through the GISN are developed into proprietary and expensive products that developing countries cannot afford.
The GISN system is also seen as lacking transparency and benefiting the WHO designated laboratories as well as researchers, vaccine and diagnostic manufacturers largely based in developed countries but failing to provide equitable benefits from the use of the virus, in particular to developing countries hit by avian flu.
Since May 2007, efforts have been underway in the WHO to reform the GISN system and for this purpose several meetings have been held.
countries including the Africa Group,
(* Edward Hammond is an independent researcher and an expert on patents and biological resources. He contributed this article to SUNS.) +