MERS has sickened at least a hundred people from the Arabian Peninsula to Europe and killed half that number. Saudi Arabia has been particularly hard hit, with the majority of illnesses and deaths linked to that country.
According to this article, H E Abdulaziz bin Sulaiman al Turki, Saudi Ambassador to Oman, complained that:
“We haven’t been able to go very far with diagnostics and finding a vaccine for the virus as of today. The main reason is that the virus was patented by a foreign laboratory and is not allowed to be used for investigations by other scientists...Intellectual property rights and patents should not stand in the way of public interest, especially when it concerns the health of a large number of people,”
The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan has assured Saudi Arabia she is looking into the matter and agrees that protecting it's citizens should be more important than intellectual property laws.
In this strongly worded response, Erasmus states it is not responsible for slowing research on the virus and other facilities are free to develop their own tests for exposure to MERS (but, evidently not vaccines or medicines.):
"The Viroscience Department of Erasmus MC strongly refutes all allegations concerning a presumed lack of willingness to cooperate in research into the new MERS coronavirus. The virus has already been sent free of charge to many public research and health institutions that can work with it safely and, like the Viroscience department, serve public health worldwide. It should be clear that a virus cannot be patented, only specific applications related to it, like vaccines and medicines. Rumours that the Viroscience department of Erasmus MC would hamper research into the MERS coronavirus are clearly wrong and not based on facts."
As concern grows for the millions of Hajj pilgrims who are expected to visit Saudi Arabia next month, researchers and health officials, with hands bound by patent laws, are left with little more than to advise the elderly and chronically ill postpone their trip, use common sense hygiene practices and vigilance by hospital and health care workers.
image from http://commons.wikimedia.org