The claim: Research groups funded by Bill Gates engineered and patented the novel coronavirus and will profit from any future vaccine
Multiple posts on Facebook claim a research institute funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation owns the patent on the coronavirus causing the current pandemic.
The posts echo a Jan. 29 article published on the website Humans Are Free that claims a British research institute has a patent of the virus. The article also asserts that the institute is funded by billionaire Bill Gates and the CDC also retains a patent to the virus’s genome.
“Believe it or not, a coronavirus strain is a patented by the The Pirbright Institute, which is partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,” the article begins.
Conspiracy theories about a connection between the Pirbright Institute and Bill Gates have been circulating online for months. Also in January, the QAnon YouTuber Jordan Sather tweeted a thread claiming that patents connected to the Pirbright Institute were for the novel coronavirus.
The Humans Are Free article claims Gates and other interested parties funded these research groups to create a “weaponized viral strain designed to sell more useless, deadly vaccines, while at the same time killing off a few thousand, or perhaps a few million, people.”
The unsubstantiated claims persist on multiple social media platforms and appear to be especially popular among anti-vaccination and QAnon bloggers and online commentators.
USA TODAY reached out to Humans Are Free, Sather and one Facebook user who posted such a claim for comment but was unable to reach any of them.
Pirbright Institute and virus patents
The Pirbright Institute is a biological research organization based in Surrey, England. The organization specializes in studying animal viruses and zoonotic diseases that transfer from animals to people. While the institute does hold a patent for a coronavirus that primarily affects chickens, it does not hold a patent on any part of the novel coronavirus causing the current COVID-19 pandemic.
"The Institute was granted a patent in 2018 which covers the development of an attenuated (weakened) form of the coronavirus that could potentially be used as a vaccine to prevent respiratory diseases in birds, including IBV, and other animals," a representative from the Pirbright Institute told USA TODAY.
"Pirbright does not hold any patents on parts of or the complete genome of the SARS-CoV-2 betacoronavirus," the institute stated.
No publicly available patents for genetic sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been issued anywhere in the world, and a possible vaccine isn't expected for possibly 12-18 months.
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The Pirbright Institute recently joined a partnership with researchers at the University of Oxford and Public Health England to test new animal vaccines for their effectiveness in combating the novel coronavirus.
“Previously Pirbright has not carried out research on human coronaviruses,” the institute wrote in a press release on the partnership, “but we are now working closely with many other science and health organizations to collectively devise ways to control and prevent COVID-19 in order to protect human health.”
Gates Foundation funding
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided two grants to Pirbright: once in November 2013 for research into diseases affecting livestock and again in June 2016 for research into a universal flu vaccine.
“The foundation provides the Pirbright Institute with funding to conduct research and surveillance on viral diseases that affect farm animals and viruses that have the potential to spread from animals to humans,” a representative from the Gates Foundation told USA TODAY. “We have not funded the development of Pirbright’s coronavirus vaccine for livestock.”
Claims that Bill Gates or the Gates Foundation helped to create and patent the novel coronavirus are unfounded. The Gates Foundation is jointly funding an initiative to speed the pace of research into treatments for COVID-19.
"The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator is designed to help by bringing together resources and expertise to lower the financial and technical risk for academia, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies, while ensuring that these products are accessible and affordable to people in low-resource settings," a press release on the project reads.
The World Health Organization lists more than 30 potential vaccines currently in development for treating COVID-19. Much of the research being conducted in these efforts are conducted by pharmaceutical companies around the world, who may seek to patent a vaccine upon its completion.
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Our ruling: False
We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by our research. While there are past ties between the Pirbright Institute and the Gates Foundation, neither organization holds a patent for the novel coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pirbright Institute is a partner in clinical trials on potential vaccines for the coronavirus, but any patent for a vaccine would be months away at this point. Neither Bill Gates nor the Gates Foundation is involved in patenting any potential vaccine, and thus do not stand to profit from it.
Our fact-check sources:
Pirbright Foundation, New testing trials for COVID-19 treatment
Pirbright Foundation Coronavirus Patent 2018
Gates Foundation Grant, November 2013
Gates Foundation Grant, June 2016
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