Erasmus MC was the first to identify the new coronavirus (MERS coronavirus). To date, more than 44 people have been infected with MERS coronavirus worldwide, 22 of whom have died. The virus could develop into a major public health threat if the new coronavirus becomes efficiently transmissible from human-to-human. Therefore a major research effort into MERS coronavirus and its properties is urgently needed.
It is clear that all research institutions worldwide that want to carry out such research will receive the virus free of charge from Erasmus MC. Indeed many research institutions already received the virus together with additional materials and information from Erasmus MC. For shipment of the virus it is mandatory that a material transfer agreement (MTA) is signed by the recipient institution, as is common practice when shipping viruses. Such an MTA covers issues like liability and limitations to commercial use. Consequently the virus may not yet be used for commercial purposes and may not be distributed to third parties without permission. These are the usual conditions covered by a MTA.
MTAs were implemented to facilitate scientific research as well as exchange of materials to the benefit of public health. Ab Osterhaus and Ron Fouchier of Erasmus MC stress that ‘every research or public health laboratory that complies with the safety criteria for handling MERS coronavirus can work with it’.
It is clearly a misunderstanding that Erasmus MC owns the virus. Only specific applications related to it, like vaccines and medicines can be patented.
Virologists of the Viroscience Department of Erasmus MC are sending MERS coronavirus free of charge and without restrictions to all research institutions that work to benefit public health.