Effect Measure

Mount Sinai School of Medicine has just entered into “a territory limited license agreement with Avimex Animal Health” to produce a new biological that combines an H5 flu vaccine combined with portion of another important disease virus for commercial poultry, Newcastle Disease.

The privately owned world-leader in the avian influenza H5 emulsified vaccine market will use Mount Sinai’s patented live recombinant Newcastle disease technology that contains an insertion of the H5 gene, for use in Brazil, India, Japan, Mexico, and Taiwan.

Inventors, Peter Palese, PhD, Chairman and Professor, Microbiology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, PhD, Professor, Microbiology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, added the H5 gene to the Newcastle vaccine. When chickens were exposed to avian influenza and the Newcastle virus, birds vaccinated with the recombinant vaccine produced protection for both viruses.

“This effective combination vaccine protects against both Newcastle disease and avian influenza, and gives us the opportunity to eliminate two dreaded diseases in the poultry population, worldwide, for the first time,” said Dr. Palese. “This vaccine became possible through extraordinary advances in the laboratory which allowed for the development of genetic engineering techniques for these RNA viruses, Newcastle disease and avian influenza.” (Press Release)

I have no doubt this is “a good thing.” Peter Palese is a genuinely nice person, intellectually honest and one of the deans of US flu science. His co-inventor, Dr. Garcia-Sastre is very prominent in the field and while I don’t know him personally, I have no reason to think he also isn’t a sterling human being. Mt. Sinai is an important research medical center and I have had the pleasure of working with and knowing people there for many years. So what’s my problem?

Dr. Palese made the point: “This vaccine became possible through extraordinary advances in the laboratory which allowed for the development of genetic engineering techniques for these RNA viruses, Newcastle disease and avian influenza.”

Most of this was done with taxpayer money and for a problem of world wide public health importance. Why isn’t this being issued under a public license or put in the public domain? Exactly this has already been done by another prominent scientist, Prof. Elias Corey at Harvard, who devised a new, quick and much cheaper way to make the antiviral Tamiflu and put the process in the public domain.

Corey isn’t just anybody. He’s a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry. And he deserves a prize in world citizenship, too. It would have been nice if Mt. Sinai and the two co-inventors had also done this. It’s holding them to a high standard, I know. But why not?

It’s the right thing to do and the times demand it.


  1. #1 Trina Bashore
    June 26, 2006

    So let me test my very brief understanding of this.
    H5 can go systemic because it can be cleaved by furin instead of trypsin. NVD is cleaved by furin. By wrapping these two coils together it blocks both the activity of the furin and the trypsin? So basically no F or H clevage? Am I thinking along the right line, or am I completly off?

  2. #2 revere
    June 26, 2006

    Trina: Essentially you have it. The polybasic cleavage site allows cleavage by ubiquitous cellular proteases (which include furins but may include others as well), not just those in the respiratory system.

  3. #3 traumatized
    June 26, 2006

    So, do the patent hawks at all major universities leave room for the decision to put an invention in public domain? I wonder how that clause reads. Maybe they estimate a ratio of potential lives saved to projected royalties. I wonder who sets the threshold and whether there is a statistical adjustment for the continent where the people are dying.

  4. #4 revere
    June 26, 2006

    trauma: You raise an important question, which is why I included Mt. Sinai in this. I don’t know what my University requires of me. I don’t bother with it. I put all my stuff, including copyright, into public domain, open source or Creative Commons licenses. If you are a US citizen you’ve already paid for it through my NIH grants and you shouldn’t have to pay for it again.

    Let them come after me for doing it.

    Since you are fond of religious ideas, here are two, one Jewish, one Catholic:

    Jewish: Don’t ask the Rabbi because he’ll say it’s treyf (non-kosher).
    Catholic: Better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.

    Here’s mine:

    Do the Right Thing as often as you can.

  5. #5 traumatized
    June 26, 2006

    “Do the Right Thing as often as you can.”

    ….ad infinitum.

    You are a treasure indeed. Your work on this blog alone attests to your adherence to your ethic. Well, Monday through Saturday anyway.


  6. #6 LG
    June 26, 2006

    Corey does decent things with his science. But let’s not forget that two of his grad students committed suicide within a year and a half or so, and that a decade earlier, another did. (I knew, was fond of, and respected the last one to do so.)

    My take on Corey may be a bit like your take on BP, Revere — you can’t quickly overlook how people working for him are getting on.

  7. #7 revere
    June 26, 2006

    LG: Yes, you are right. I was reminded of this by someone the last time I posted on the Corey discovery. His place seems to be (or at least was) a pressure cooker and as someone with my own group, I can say with certainty it doesn’t have to be that way. That is laid at his doorstep. At least he did the right thing with the Tamiflu process, so he is a role model for others who are not part of the craziness which is competitive science in the northeast. I say this last not to excuse it. It is entirely unnecessary and can end tragically. It can happen once to anyone, but three times is stretching credulity a bit.

  8. #8 caia
    June 26, 2006

    Another Jewish idea I’m rather taken with: To save a life, or save a soul, any rule may be broken.

    (I’m an atheist, so I interpret the soul thing loosely, to mean, to prevent injury to a person’s self or integrity.)

  9. #9 KR
    June 26, 2006

    I have word from a scientist friend of mine that the vaccine designed to be used on pigs for PRRS (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Sydrome) is not suspected of actually spreading the disease. We need care with whatever we do. Since time is short in the case of H5N1 such care will probably be tossed to the wind and we may do more harm than good.

  10. #10 Dr. C
    June 26, 2006

    In the interest of brevity, perhaps instead of future lengthy discussions on releasing the H5N1 sequences, you could simply link to this post and the rationales will be self-explanatory, in both directions.

  11. #11 Ground Zero Homeboy
    June 28, 2006

    caia: There was an NY Times “I’m a doctor” column about an old rabbi who happily accepted a pig heart valve. “One does not always have to keep kosher.”

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