Mar
19
2007

Indonesia—with the world's highest death toll from H5N1 avian influenza—briefly stopped providing samples to the World Health Organization (WHO), saying only organizations that agreed not to use the samples for commercial purposes would have access. Now the Indonesian government has struck a new deal to share samples under a plan that would guarantee access to any resulting vaccines.

H5N1 avian influenza viruses: This is a colorized transmission electron micrograph of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses (in gold). (Courtesy J. Katz Goldsmith and S. Zaki, CDC)
H5N1 avian influenza viruses: This is a colorized transmission electron micrograph of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses (in gold). (Courtesy J. Katz Goldsmith and S. Zaki, CDC)

The Reuters article says,

"Indonesia has said it was unfair for foreign drug firms to use samples, design vaccines, patent them and sell the product back to the country. ...

Menno de Jong of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City said sharing viruses and clinical data was vital to improve diagnostics, clinical care and vaccine development, but sharing vaccines was vital too.

'I think the point is well taken from the Indonesia experience that there should be some guarantees for countries affected by H5N1 that they will also share in the vaccines produced,' he said."

Biotech and pharmaceutical companies spend BIG money to produce tests, treatments, and vaccines for a huge range of conditions, from the life-threatening to the merely inconvenient or uncomfortable. And they’re understandably concerned about protecting their investments.

But afflicted patients are usually not compensated for the samples that make these medical miracles possible. (For a good discussion of the problem, read this editorial from the New York Times).

Check out Bryan’s blog entry ((“Patenting human genes”), and then vote in our poll.

Tell us what you think: Does Indonesia’s insistence that compensation (in the form of access to resulting vaccines) for H5N1 avian influenza samples make you feel safer/better?

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