Chinese researchers have recently applied for a local patent corresponding to Gilead Sciences Inc.’s (An American biotechnology company specializing in researching, developing, and commercializing drugs) experimental drug, which they believe might prove to be successful in fighting the novel coronavirus.The Wuhan Institute of Virology (a research institute based in the central Chinese city at the epicenter of the epidemic and administered by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) on virology) has filed a Patent Application for the use of the antiviral drug called “Remdesivir” to treat the ailment. As per the statement on the institute’s official website, the patent application was submitted on 21st January 2020, along with a military academy.
The move indicates the fact that China wants more say over the experimental drug, which it considers as one of the most promising candidates for fighting against the infection that has killed somewhere around 500 people till now. Going ahead with the decision of seeking a patent in place of invoking the heavy-handed compulsory license option (which allows countries to override drug patents in national emergencies) underscores the critical balancing act before China as it shows its sincerity and commitment towards Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) along with effectively curbing the virus outbreak.
Wang Yanyu, a partner at AllBright Law Offices in Beijing, having long experiences in the Intellectual Property (IP) industry, stated that applying for a patent in this particular scenario implies the fact that China is making sincere efforts to grow awareness about the experimental drug. She also mentioned that the government would avoid using the option of compulsory license as it wants to show how much China respects IP Rights and is well aware of the fact that the abuse of compulsory license would, in turn, draw international criticism as well.
It is not yet clear whether the IP authorities would approve the institute’s patent application or not. The Patent Filing requires proving that the drug fights the coronavirus in an entirely different way from how it fights against the other viruses in this category. However, according to Wang, a stakeholder in China going ahead with filing the patent application does make sense as most of the patients are in China and not the US, thereby making it quite unlikely for Gilead to do all the tests.
Although Gilead’s experimental drug isn’t yet approved or licensed anywhere across the globe, it is being pushed in China after showing early signs of being highly effective in coronavirus infected patients. According to Gilead’s chief medical officer, Merdad Parsey, the experimental drug shall undergo clinical trials in China next week in patients with severe and moderate symptoms of the virus. The Chinese scientists at the institute have already discovered that Gilead’s “Remdesivir” and “Chloroquine” (an 80-year old malaria drug) are both highly effective in laboratory tests. They believe that the two drugs’ efficacy on human beings requires further clinical tests.
China is already capable of manufacturing chloroquine and is now looking forward to having access to remdesivir. If the patent application is approved, Gilead shall require negotiating with the Chinese patent owners corresponding to selling the drug for the treatment of the novel coronavirus infection outside China. According to Wang, the great thing about having the patent granted in the future is that it would lead to cross-licensing situations, which shall further give China more bargaining chips in the context of negotiating the licensing fee with Gilead.
Once approved, Gilead will retain the global rights corresponding to marketing the antiviral medication for treating other ailments that the drug had originally aimed for, including Ebola and SARS.
In a statement, the Wuhan Institute said that it filed the patent application out of national interest and would never agree to exercise its Patent Rights in the case some foreign pharmaceutical firms wish to collaborate with China for curbing the infection.
Presently, Gilead is shipping sufficient drugs to treat 500 patients and shall ramp up the supply in the case the clinical trials have fruitful outcomes.