Scientists dispute royalties on HIV blood-test patent

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The Independent Online
A British research institute is claiming a share of patent royalties on an HIV blood test developed by French scientists. The French are themselves involved in a long and bitter patent dispute with American researchers.

An Aids scientist at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, partly funded by the Cancer Research Campaign, claimed that he helped the Pasteur Institute in Paris develop the blood test.

Professor Robin Weiss said he successfully infected cultured cells with the HIV virus discovered by Professor Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute, a critical step, he said, in developing a reliable blood test.

This was in 1984, Professor Weiss said in an interview with the New York Times, and he has tried to get the Pasteur Institute to acknowledge his contribution for several years.

'They may have forgotten about it, but that would be a surprise to me . . . This seems to be a little bit of unfinished business that the Pasteur Institute should take care of,' he told the newspaper.

The New York Times suggests a dispute between British and French researchers may help the US National Institutes of Health to fend off French claims against one of its top Aids researchers, Robert Gallo, a friend and collaborator of Professor Weiss.

It suggests that the French 'were not as far along as American researchers in 1984 in developing a test for HIV', the newspaper said.

The Pasteur Institute wants to rescind a 1987 legal agreement with the US which states that Dr Gallo and Professor Montagnier are co-discoverers of the Aids virus and that patent royalties should be shared fifty-fifty.

It wants to reopen negotiations after Dr Gallo admitted last year that he used the Aids virus discovered by Professor Montagnier to develop the American blood test, which has earned an estimated pounds 20m in royalties.

Professor Montagnier played down Professor Weiss's contribution to the development of the French test. He said the infected cells sent from London were contaminated with other material and were not suitable for industrial use and that cells from a different source were eventually used.

A British claim over royalties on the French Aids test is the latest twist in a complex web of legal and scientific arguments about Aids discoveries.

Last year, Professor Weiss admitted that a British blood test he developed in 1985 used the same virus discovered by Professor Montagnier, despite claims on the patent that the virus was a new discovery.

Professor Weiss was unavailable for comment.

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