Covidex: Mbarara University pushes for ownership

Monday July 05 2021
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Covidex is yet to undergo clinical trials despite being approved by NDA . PHOTO/RACHEL MABALA

By Tonny Abet

Mbarara University management has said it will block Jena Herbals Uganda Limited, the manufacturer of Covidex, a drug said to treat Covid-19, from taking ownership and benefit from the product.

This comes a few days after National Drug Authority (NDA) approved Covidex for public use and allowed Jena Herbals Uganda Limited to do mass production. 

In an interview with Daily Monitor yesterday, Dr Warren Naamara, the chairman of Mbarara University of Science and Technology Council, said they would not lose ownership of the product. 

He, however, said the university is open to sharing the ownership of Covidex with Prof Patrick Ogwang, the owner of   Jena Herbals Uganda Limited  and creator of Covidex.

“The Intellectual Property Right is co-owned by the principle investigator (product developer) and the institution in which they work. [Prof] Ogwang should be supported to do a smart clinical trial and if there is an observation of [serious side] effects, the medicine should be stopped all the way,” Dr Naamara said yesterday.

He added: “But if the clinical trial is successful, after completion, the law of Intellectual Property Rights must set in.”  Neither the university nor Prof Ogwang has come out to tell when the trials will start. 

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But a June 14 letter by Prof Celestino Obua, the Mbarara University vice chancellor, states that Covidex is fully owned by the university and Jena Herbals Limited should desist from manufacturing the product unless the university permits.

“Any third party interested in production, distribution, or sale of Covidex without prejudice is hereby asked to desist from negotiating any deals with any individual, other than the university authority, who is the holder of the Intellectual Property Rights for this product, and for the avoidance of any doubts, in this case Mbarara University of Science and Technology authority,” he said. 

Prof Obua said Covidex was developed by the university under Pharm-Biotechnology and Traditional Medicine Centre. It is still unclear whether the University is reconsidering its position. 

The university legal officer, Mr Timothy Mugumya, when asked whether the institution holds the said Intellectual Property right, said he could not comment about the issue, but hinted that he does not “want to be seen to deviate from the statement” by Prof Obua. 

In a June 14 write-up, Prof Ogwang stated: “I write to inform the public that Covidex, a formula developed by me, has undergone only laboratory tests by me and my team of scientists at Mbarara University of Science and Tecnology (MUST) for active compounds and safety in laboratory animals. Only a few people have used it so far to relieve their symptoms of Covid-19.” 

Dr Anthony Kakooza, an Intellectual Property law expert at Byenkya, Kihika & Co. Advocates, said: “Prof Ogwang is an employee of MUST. It would be interesting to establish whether his contract of employment with the university had any stipulation concerning coming up with inventions. Under the Industrial Properties Act of 2014, unless the contract expressly mentions otherwise, any inventions that the employee comes up with belong entirely to him.” 

Prof Ogwang couldn’t be reached for comment, but people close to him at the university, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Covidex was developed by Prof Ogwang outside the control of the administration.

Covidex
Since hitting the market last month, demand for the drug shot up in the country. The price of the drug shot up to as high as Shs80,000 per 20mls bottle, a sharp increment from the original Shs3,000 price. 
 
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