China lab seeks patent on use of Gilead's coronavirus treatment

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A state-run Chinese research institute has applied for a patent on the use of Gilead Sciences’ experimental U.S. antiviral drug, which scientists think could provide treatment for the coronavirus that has killed hundreds and infected thousands.

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a mask is seen at the Nanjing Pedestrian Road, a main shopping area, in Shanghai, China January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

The Wuhan Institute of Virology of the China Academy of Sciences, based in the city where the outbreak is believed to have originated, said in a statement on Tuesday it applied to patent the use of Remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed by Gilead GILD.O, to treat the virus.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week reported a coronavirus patient in the United States was found to show an improvement after taking Remdesivir, which is also used to treat infectious diseases such as Ebola.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

“Even if the Wuhan Institute’s application gets authorized, the role is very limited because Gilead still owns the fundamental patent of the drug,” said Zhao Youbin, a Shanghai-based intellectual property counsel at Purplevine IP Service Co.

“Any exploitation of the patent must seek approval from Gilead.”

Gilead did not immediately respond to request for comment but last week said it was working with China to test Remdesivir for use in a small number of patients with the coronavirus.

The application was submitted jointly with the Military Medicine Institute of the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Science, according to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Scientists from both institutes said in a paper published in Nature’s Cell Research on Tuesday that they found both Remdesivir and Chloroquine, which is used to treat malaria, to be an effective way to inhibit the coronavirus.

The Wuhan-based laboratory said in its statement that the patent application was filed on Jan. 21 and aimed at protecting China’s national interests. However, it said it would temporarily drop its patent claims if the opportunity arose to collaborate with foreign pharmaceutical firms to fight the epidemic.

Reporting by Zhang Yan, Roxanne Liu and David Stanway; Editing by Sam Holmes