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Saudis say Dutch patent on MERS virus hampers research

The normally civil world of international health diplomacy was shattered yesterday, when Saudi Arabia complained that a patent taken out by Dutch scientists who isolated the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus was impeding Saudi efforts to track the virus within its own borders.

"Deals between scientists because they want to take intellectual property… are issues we need to address," said World Health Organization director-general Margaret Chan in response. "No IP will stand in the way of public health."

The Dutch researchers, based at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, say the patent does nothing to stop the Saudis developing their own tests for the coronavirus that causes MERS. The Dutch have themselves developed and published tests for both the virus and antibodies to it, essential for tracking its spread. And they say they have sent the virus to 40 labs, some of which are developing their own tests, and that they are willing to send the virus to any laboratories who can handle it safely.

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