Why does the CDC hold a patent on Ebola?
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the death of Thomas Duncan and the subsequent spread of the virus to two healthcare workers inside the U.S. have prompted a flurry of questions and — yes, even some conspiracy theories.
With a quick Google search, one will find that the Internet is filled with speculation that the U.S. government and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will profit from an Ebola pandemic because they have a patent on the virus and potentially a cure.
While it is true that the CDC was given a patent in 2010 for the Ebola Bundibugyo virus (EboBun), the strain that is currently spreading is Zaire Ebola (EBOV).
David Sanders, professor of biological sciences at Purdue University and a leading Ebola researcher, told Newsmax Health that it is not uncommon for the government to patent microbes developed in their labs.
“The CDC does hold some patents on life forms, but it generally does this for the common good, so a commercial company can’t come along and patent it,” Sanders said. “The CDC lets researchers work with the strain without fees.” Sanders and some other experts have dismissed claims that the government would profit “in the billions” from a pandemic.
TheGrio spoke to David Perlin, Executive Director of the Public Health Research Institute at the International Center for Public Health, who specializes in infectious diseases research. In regards to questions about patenting the Ebola virus, Perlin told theGrio.com the “only reason to do it is for commercial purposes” and to “control the strain” in terms of licensing.
“[EboBun] either has value as a vaccine strain, or it has some other type of commercial value that the CDC would benefit from,” Perlin said.
EBOV has claimed the lives of over 4,000 people. The first fatality on American soil was recorded earlier this month in Dallas, Texas. The virus claimed the life of Thomas Eric Duncan, who contracted Ebola in Liberia.
In July, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation announced via press release it reached a $140 million deal with the U.S. Department of Defense to develop TKM-Ebola, an anti-Ebola virus RNAi therapeutic.
“If that’s what the CDC is doing, I’m all for it,” Perlin said of Tekmira’s deal to develop an anti-virus. “This is what we should be doing.”
TKM-Ebola was used in efforts to treat American Dr. Rick Sacra, who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia, according to the International Business Times. He was transported to Nebraska, where he was successfully treated.
Another conspiracy making the rounds from outlets like White Out Press suggests an outbreak in America would benefit Tekmira and other pharmaceutical companies by allowing them to conduct drug trials on humans.
Officials at Tekmira, however, told the Los Angeles Times, “the use of TKM-Ebola under ’emergency’ protocols does not constitute a clinical trial.”
TheGrio.com has reached out to the CDC for a statement, but they declined comment.
Follow theGrio’s Carrie Healey on Twitter @carrieheals.