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Was the new Chinese coronavirus man-made?

Thousands of internet users are sharing coronavirus-related patents filed even before the 2019-nCoV expansion, fueling the craziest rumours. In reality, these documents relate to other viruses of the same family.

This Monday the number of victims of the new coronavirus in China jumped to 81 dead (and 2,816 people officially infected). A record that could be greatly underestimated. Based on mathematical models, researchers at the University of Hong Kong estimate that more than 44,000 people could currently be affected. Most of them would still be in full incubation period. In other words, they would not yet show symptoms, but would already be contagious.

Still, in all likelihood, the epidemic would originate in Wuhan , in the east of the country… But on social networks, some are looking for an explanation elsewhere.

A man-made virus

Rumors claiming that this new virus would have been created by humans several years ago are indeed starting to spread on the net. Several tweets, in particular, refer to a patent filed in 2015. However, the statement is false.

It should be understood that the category of coronaviruses includes not one but many viruses that can affect mammals and birds. In fact, the vast majority of them only cause mild symptoms.

Only three of these viruses can cause epidemics in humans:SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which killed 774 people worldwide in 2002/2003; Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), which killed 458 people between 2012 and 2015; and finally 2019-nCoV (the new Chinese virus), which has so far claimed 81 victims.

That being said, the famous patent which is the subject of recent rumours, filed by the Pirbright Institute in 2015, actually concerns another virus:that of the avian infectious bronchitis , which affects poultry.

Tweets or Facebook posts also refer to other patents. But again, these are different viruses. The World , for example, relates a rumor arguing that the current coronavirus would be a creation duly patented in 2003 by the American authorities. In this case, said patent relates to SARS-CoV , which raged between 2002 and 2003.

Was the new Chinese coronavirus man-made?

Why "patent a virus"?

Be aware that patenting viruses is not unusual. In this case, it is more precisely about "altered forms" of the viruses concerned. The goal for laboratories is then to be able to work with these pathogens in order to obtain a vaccine or an antibiotic .

This 2015 patent filed by the Pirbright Institute therefore aims not to protect an "invention", but to assert the fact that the establishment is the first to have succeeded in isolate this virus in the laboratory, a fundamental step in the search for possible treatments.

We remind you that at the moment there is no vaccine for the current epidemic of coronavirus 2019-nCoV. Nevertheless, researchers have been active for several days. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has already established three partnerships to develop treatments that can start clinical trials as soon as possible.

These partners are US-based biotech Inovio Pharma, the University of Queensland, Australia, and US biotech Moderna, which works with the US National Institute of allergies and infectious diseases.


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