China's new drug for coronavirus
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Chinese researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology situated at the epicenter of coronavirus outbreak, Wuhan, have applied for a patent in China on an experimental Gilead Sciences Inc. antiviral drug, remdesivir that they believe might fight the novel coronavirus outbreak.

According to a statement on the institute’s website made on Feb. 4, the patent application, along with a military academy was made on Jan. 21. The move is an indication that China wants to gain more property rights over the most promising drug for coronavirus.

Till today the virus has killed almost 500 people and infected around 25,000. If this patent is granted, Gilead will require Chinese patent holders to sell the drug to treat coronavirus outside China.

Wang Yanyu, a senior partner at AllBright Law Offices in Beijing, said that holding a patent will enable cross-licensing situations, giving China more bargaining chips to negotiate licensing fees with Gilead. As the country which owns the patent for a specific purpose, Gilead will have to negotiate with China to sell the drug to other countries for fighting new coronavirus.

Whether China’s intellectual property authorities will approve the application is not clear yet. They will have to prove that the drug

works on the new coronavirus strain different from how it works on other viruses in the same category to get approved.

“Most of the patients are here, rather than in the U.S., which makes it unlikely that Gilead will do all these tests,” Wang said.

After the drug has shown early signs of being highly effective, China is rushing to do the human trials of the drug on coronavirus patients. However, it is not licensed or approved anywhere in the world. Next week, the drug will be tested on patients showing moderate and severe symptoms of coronavirus infection.

Gilead’s chloroquine and remdesivir are 80-year-old malaria drugs, which has now shown highly effective against novel coronavirus in the laboratory. But further clinical studies are required to confirm its efficacy.

China now wants access to remdesivir while they are capable of manufacturing chloroquine.

However, the decision to seek a patent for the drug against coronavirus instead of requesting a heavy-handed “compulsory license” option, which allows countries to revoke drug patents in national emergencies, underscores China’s commitment to intellectual property and the delicate balancing act before China.

Wang said that the move to apply for patent implies the growing awareness about the virus in the country. If China chooses compulsory licensing, it will draw international criticism.

National Interest

Gilead’s remdesivir was initially developed for treating illnesses like SARS and Ebola. If the drug is approved, it will retain the global rights to market the antiviral medication.

The application for the patent was made out of national interest. If foreign pharmaceutical firms work together with China to curb the contagion, it will not exercise its patent rights, said Wuhan Institute in a statement.

Gilead is currently shipping enough doses for 500 patients, and if the trial is successful, Gilead will increase the supply. They are trying to produce more as fast as possible.