Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Indonesia Accused Of Withholding Vital Bird Flu Data

Steps Up Fight To Claim "Intellectual Property Rights" Over Killer Virus Strain

As we wrote here on February 1 :
A vaccine that could stop humans from becoming infected, upon exposure, to the H5N1 strain was always going to be a gold mine for the pharmaceutical manufacturer...
Indonesia now appears to believe it may also prove to be a goldmine for the government of the country in which the H5N1 strain appears as well.

The Indonesian government has followed through on its threats issued eight days ago to stop sharing samples of the H5N1 virus that has seen the archipelago become the world's leader for human deaths related to avian influenza.

There has been 81 confirmed cases of human bird flu infection in Indonesia since rigorous testing was introduced in early 2005. Some 63 of those confirmed infected died from the virus.

Indonesia was apparently furious that Australian pharmaceutical giant, CSL, had used samples of Indonesian bird flu to develop a vaccine, now being rushed through Australian approval processes, without permission.

Indonesia claimed in late January that it owned the "intellectual property rights" of the virus samples it had shared with some of the world's leading virologists, epidemiologists and the World Health Organisation. A claim of ownership that was, no doubt, greeted with both shock and laughter by the white coat crowd.

The news that Indonesia will no longer share the valuable human genetic samples with foreign laboratories has caused dismay and "raised fears it could slow international efforts to prepare for a pandemic."

Indonesia's actions are also likely to frustrate the world's leading drug and vaccine manufacturers as well.

While it is important to remember that the threat of a global bird flu pandemic, and the need to take action to prevent it from becoming a reality, has already seen almost unprecedented co-operation between the world's biggest drug companies, it must not be forgotten that human bird flu vaccines have the potential to generate tens of billions of dollars worth of sales (even if heavily discounted for poorer nations).

The mega-billions generated by the stockpiling of more than 200 million doses of Tamiflu by some 80 countries around the world has indicated the deadly H5N1 virus is a potential goldmine even beyond that of AIDS-related vaccines and 'cures'.

It is appropriate then that the following story about Indonesia's actions to restrict the distribution of virus samples comes from the Financial Times (excerpts) :

Dr Triono Soendoro, director-general of Indonesia’s National Institute of Health Research and Development, said the step to withhold samples was taken because the government wanted to keep control of the intellectual property rights of the deadly strain of the virus.

He declined to give further details but said “all will be revealed” on Wednesday, when Indonesian officials are due to announce they are collaborating with Baxter International, the world’s biggest maker of blood-disease products, on a vaccine.

Analysts say Indonesia hopes to offer exclusive rights to the strain to one company and cut a deal on cheaper products once they are developed.

One official warned that withholding samples could be counterproductive, since there was no guarantee the final human pandemic strain would derive from the current virus killing people in Indonesia.

One bird flu expert in Jakarta said the move would not matter if Indonesia was able to do a full sequencing of its strain to detect mutations. “But given the country doesn’t yet have the capability, this is now a very internationally worrying decision,” the expert said.

Indonesia Furious At Australia Over "Theft" Of Killer Bird Flu Strain

No comments: