Erasmus MC Press Release Rotterdam, 24 May 2013
Erasmus MC: no restrictions for public health research into MERS coronavirus
The Viroscience Department of Erasmus MC strongly refutes all allegations concerning a presumed lack of willingness to cooperate in research into the new MERS coronavirus. The virus has already been sent free of charge to many public research and health institutions that can work with it safely and, like the Viroscience department, serve public health worldwide. It should be clear that a virus cannot be patented, only specific applications related to it, like vaccines and medicines. Rumours that the Viroscience department of Erasmus MC would hamper research into the MERS coronavirus are clearly wrong and not based on facts.

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.  

Erasmus MC is the largest University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Our primary goal is a healthy population. Nearly 13,000 employees devote themselves every day to providing outstanding care, facilitating world-class education and conducting pioneering research. These professionals are instrumental in developing expertise on health and illness. They link the latest scientific insights to practical treatments and prevention measures to provide maximum benefit to patients and to enable healthy people to stay healthy longer. Being visibly better and leading the way in the areas of complex, innovative and acute care by collaborating with others: these are key ambitions at Erasmus MC.