China Never Patented Remdesivir; Where the CDC and WHO Disagree on Asymptomatic Carriers

In February, the Wuhan Institute of Virology announced that it would patent the COVID-19 drug remdesivir, which was originally developed by the U.S. company Gilead Sciences as a treatment for Ebola.

The institute had been studying the disease that was ravaging Wuhan province and they focused on two potential drugs that were “highly effective”: remdesivir and the anti-malarial chloroquine. In the announcement, they noted that they would not seek a patent on chloroquine.

According to a story in Time, Gilead already has a patent on remdesivir in China for use on coronaviruses.

But there’s no evidence that China approved the patent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology as the drug does not appear in listings on the country’s National Intellectual Property Administration site or other patent listings despite completing clinical trials on the drug at the end of April. The only relevant patent filing is one for benzyl isoquinoline alkaloid and resveratrol for coronavirus treatment that is described as being similar to remdesivir.

A Chinese biotech company, BrightGene Bio-Medical Technology, started producing the drug in mass quantities despite neither the Chinese government nor Gilead Sciences giving the company approval.

On Asymptomatic Carriers, CDC and WHO Have Differing Beliefs

The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization are two of the leading health organizations releasing information on the COVID-19 outbreak. But information on the virus between the two orgs is not necessarily in sync.

In a recently released document on planning scenarios, the CDC uses an asymptomatic rate—the number of confirmed cases that show mild or nonexistent symptoms—of 35 percent.

This might be considered surprisingly low since the WHO put the asymptomatic rate at a much higher 80 percent in March, with severe infections at 15 percent and critical infections, those requiring ventilation at 5 percent. Even so, the document notes that those percentages for severe and critical infections are high relative to influenza. At 80 percent, the clinical utility—the overall risks and benefits gained from testing—may be low for widespread testing if it doesn’t lead to an improved outcome for those testing positive.

As for asymptomatic transmission, the WHO noted separately that “there has been no documented asymptomatic transmission” of the virus.

The CDC on the other hand recently released a paper from the Xuzhou Medical University in China documenting asymptomatic transfer. Another white paper from the CDC highlights seven clusters of COVID-19 indicating presymptomatic transmission of the disease.