Who Owns MERS?

The Intellectual Property Controversy Surrounding the Latest Pandemic

While closing the World Health Assembly on May 27, Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), declared that an outbreak caused by a new coronavirus (a type of virus associated with respiratory illness) had become “a threat to the entire world.” Chan is right to be worried: the disease she was talking about, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), is deadly. And it is not just a health challenge. The outbreak has also led to a global legal controversy over ownership and sharing of dangerous viruses -- issues that Chan has promised to investigate.


On June 13, 2012, a hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, admitted a patient suffering from pneumonia and renal failure who died without an identified cause. A consulting physician, Ali Zaki, sent blood and sputum samples from the patient to the Saudi Ministry of Health, but tests for influenza and other viruses came back negative. Zaki

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