The outbreak of COVID-19 is a human tragedy which has caused significant impact to human life and to global economy. To date, there is no drug or vaccine proved to be effective against COVID-19. As a result, the researchers and pharmaceutical companies around the world are racing to find a cure for combating said pandemic. Generally, a medical research and development (R&D) requires a huge capital investment to reach a milestone. Nevertheless, said invested capital could be recouped as well as huge profits could be gained via an exclusive right of manufacturing, selling, exporting and licensing the invention; and, the only way that can provide such exclusive right is by obtaining a patent. A foreseeable financial gain has thus induced a global patent race to own patent rights to COVID-19 cures.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a multi-country clinical trials called ‘SOLIDARITY’ to test several antiviral drug regimens as COVID-19 therapies. The purpose of Solidarity trial is to assess the effectiveness of the drug options so that could rapidly identify the best possible treatment for COVID 19. Remdesivir is one of the antiviral drugs that will be used in the Solidarity trial. Basically, Remdesivir is a patented drug owned by an US pharmaceutical laboratory, Gilead Sciences. Remdesivir was originally developed to treat Ebola but it did not show any effect during the Ebola outbreak. Researchers has later discovered that Remdesivir could inhibit various coronaviruses in cell and said drug has been shown to work in few COVID-19 patients in US. However, these individual cases does not give strong evidence that Remdesivir is safe and effective as a cure against COVID-19. Consequently, the Solidarity trial is launched by WHO to study the effectiveness of Remdesivir and other drugs across countries before giving to COVID-19 patient en masse.
Malaysia as one of the epidemic areas with good healthcare research system and well-trained researchers thereby has been selected as one of the research centres of Solidarity trial to carry out the clinical trial on the use of Remdesivir on COVID-19 patients. The Solidarity trial enables the researchers around the world to work systematically together to evaluate the experimental therapeutic. Hopefully, the best therapeutic for COVID-19 could be successfully being determined and applied to end the pandemic in the near future.
Concurrently, it is worth mentioning that Gilead Sciences has already filed 133 coronavirus patents related to Remdesivir in 43 countries and patent offices around the world since 2011. Yet, the Wuhan Institute of Virology also announced that a Chinese patent on Gilead’s Remdesivir for novel coronavirus treatment has been filed in early of year 2020 to protect the national interest of China. It is interesting to know who is going to stand out from this patent race in finding the cures for COVID-19 and to make huge profit solely from an exclusive right offered by patent.