Pharma Patents And Why Indonesia Is Hoarding Bird Flu Samples

from the this-isn't-good-for-health dept

We've pointed to plenty of examples concerning how pharmaceutical patents actually do more to hold back life-saving cures, and here's another example. It's actually a continuation of a story we wrote about a year and a half ago, about Indonesia's decision to stop supplying bird flu samples to the World Health Organization, claiming it was worried that a big pharma would patent a drug based off of it, and Indonesia wouldn't receive any of the benefit. The country has something of a point: as pharma companies have made various cures incredibly expensive in the past.

However, Indonesia is now taking this a step further, claiming "viral sovereignty" over the bird flu. In other words, it's claiming that since the virus samples are found in the country, Indonesia owns the virus -- and it's fighting pretty much every attempt by others to do anything with the virus, sometimes using questionable claims such as one about how a US medical research facility is trying to use the virus not to create a cure, but to create biological weapons. It's basing this claim of "viral sovereignty" on the same ridiculous patent rules that allow a country to claim "ownership" and patents over indigenous plants.

While there's obviously a huge political component to this dispute, at the heart of the trouble is this idea of "ownership" of something like a plant, virus or drug -- and that's an idea that the US has been a huge supporter of, so it can hardly complain about Indonesia taking it to the logical conclusion. And, of course, that logical conclusion is the exact opposite of what supporters of pharma patents insist the system is designed to encourage. That is, thanks to this hoarding and claims of ownership, not nearly enough research is being done to try to create vaccines for bird flu. And, to make this even worse, it appears other countries are starting to consider "viral sovereignty," as well -- meaning that research into curing various diseases may grind to halt while various countries argue over who owns what.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2008 @ 8:41pm

    eh.. its just like any natural resource. if it's found naturally, and worth something, why shouldn't the country it's found in get a royalty for it? what that money gets used for is another story (local pharma or to support local services), but it's not ridiculous to say that the people of a country where such a thing exists should get a piece of any money made from it.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2008 @ 9:09pm

    Maybe 3rd world countries should charge US pharma's for diseases that pharma companies sell drugs for. Think how much African nations would have received off of AID's? Gee, the Marlboro Man should be receiving a part of all cancer drugs (wait, he died of cancer, nevermind.)

     

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  3.  
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    Mr Big Content, Aug 28th, 2008 @ 9:33pm

    Seems Only Fair ...

    Indonesia went to all the trouble of having their own citizens suffer and die from the virus, it seems fair that they should get the rights.

    You want your own rights, you go get infected with your own virus.

     

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  4.  
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    Scote, Aug 28th, 2008 @ 10:07pm

    No proplem, sue them for every infected person.

    Hey, if they want to claim ownership of the virus, fine. Now all we have to do is sue them for negligence when their "property" escapes and kills people in other countries. With the benefits of "ownership" come consequences.

     

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  5.  
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    Overcast, Aug 28th, 2008 @ 10:08pm

    People are so twisted. BOW DOWN TO THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR!

     

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  6.  
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    Allen (profile), Aug 28th, 2008 @ 11:27pm

    Fire with fire

    I'm not going to assume that their motives are necessarily greed.

    I suspect the root cause of this idea is that they are afraid that the cure, once found will be patented and priced beyond the means of most Indonesians.

    If I'm right, then they're fighting fire with fire, which can work, but carries an element of risk. It would be bitter irony if in posturing to ensure equitable access to vaccines developed from the samples they delay it's development to the point that it that pandemic occurred before the vaccine was ready.

    The idea of owning a virus isnt all that crazy when compared to some of the things that you can patent.

     

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  7.  
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    bikey (profile), Aug 29th, 2008 @ 1:37am

    ownership

    For a stupendous treatment of this and related topics, especially the relationship between public health and germ warfare, see Melinda Cooper's Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era. (Univ. of Washington). Indonesia is so on point.

     

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  8.  
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    CastorTroy-Libertarian, Lover, General Annoyance f, Aug 29th, 2008 @ 5:02am

    Crazy Thought

    So if Bird Flu mutates or starts killing people in other countries, what will Indonesia do? "There" property has escaped and done damage, and if all the other countries and Pharma companies recongnize that Bird Flu is thier Property and pay a small Royality, they are going to be completely and utterly screwed. Your "property" runs amok, you get sued into the grave yard. Just imagine a entire country in Debt to one person in another Country for Billions... Seems like a sound strategy to me.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2008 @ 6:14am

    I don't think it's fair to say Indonesia is going to absolutely prevent anyone from making a cure for their virus (that would be nuts), but they probably just want to make sure they get something out of such a cure. Pharma companies will pay for this; they just don't want to. I see this whole thing more as a defensive patent move. Yes, yes, the system is totally fubar, but they're doing what they can to protect themselves and that's fair, given the system they're in.

     

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  10.  
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    kisli, Aug 29th, 2008 @ 6:21am

    cool, great plan:
    1. get a virus, infect all birds
    2. GMO a virus resistant bird (you know like Monsanto's Roundup)
    3. Profit

     

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  11.  
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    Josh from Canada, Aug 29th, 2008 @ 6:57am

    Re:

    For #6 and #9 (and to everyone else in general), it seems that the big part of both your lines of thinking is that pharma patents are a part of the "problem". I'm pretty sure that would be good evidence for either doing away with or greatly weakening pharma patents. Then Indonesia wouldn't have to go to any "defensive" measures like trying to "own" a virus.

     

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  12.  
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    Sun King, Aug 29th, 2008 @ 7:19am

    Rules of Engagement

    Aren't these the rules of the game? Isn't this how US corporations and the big pharma companies have set everything up? This is how it works, right? When the rule is purely Greed, then if you're going to play, you must follow it.

     

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  13.  
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    mobiGeek, Aug 29th, 2008 @ 8:49am

    Re:

    But unlike other resources, they are claiming "IP" over the natural resource.

    This is not the same thing whatsoever. Yes, they can collect the samples and sell them, that's completely appropriate.

    No other country that has/sells natural resources goes around claiming patents on the DNS of their trees/minerals/metals/etc... (Well, there is Monsanto I guess...)

     

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  14.  
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    Scote, Aug 29th, 2008 @ 11:25am

    "For #6 and #9 (and to everyone else in general), it seems that the big part of both your lines of thinking is that pharma patents are a part of the "problem". I'm pretty sure that would be good evidence for either doing away with or greatly weakening pharma patents. Then Indonesia wouldn't have to go to any "defensive" measures like trying to "own" a virus."

    Doing away with patents might be a good idea, but then Indonesia might hoard the samples as a "trade secret" and still hold out for some sort of payment.

     

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  15.  
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    phillip, Aug 29th, 2008 @ 11:31am

    Re: Re:

    @ mobiGeek
    maybe nobody claims the DNA of the trees, but US Pharma companies are patenting natural genes in the human body.

     

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  16.  
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    oregonnerd, Aug 29th, 2008 @ 2:38pm

    and even foreseen

    James Blish, Cities In Flight. Publication date sometime in the '50's I think. Perhaps the best possible example of the consequences of attempting to restrict knowledge is the role the Catholic church played in the Middle Ages, and what happened once the fences fell. ...And then I think how simplistic a statement that is--which again seems to apply to the case. However, a world in which a man can have a tumor removed (naturally paying for the removal) and the doctor doing the removal makes millions off the tumor... I don't know. It just seems a bit strange to me, at times. Maybe I should go out and shake hands with a car.
    --Glenn
    8]

     

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  17.  
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    pkornie, Aug 29th, 2008 @ 9:21pm

    HaveAniceDay.

    ChewTheRoot.

     

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  18.  
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    joe johnson, Aug 30th, 2008 @ 11:35am

    aanswering

    HELL YEA! THE U.S. PROBABLY WOULD, WILL; USE THE VIRUS FOR GERM WARFARE. "WHAT;YOU TRUST THESE BASTARDS?"

     

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