Samsung to donate $33m to MERS research

Samsung will donate $33 million to help research Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), the viral respiratory illness that caused an outbreak in South Korea last year with the company's hospital the worst affected.

South Korean conglomerate Samsung will donate 41 billion won ($33.4 million) in the next five years to fund research into the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

The Samsung Foundation has donated 1.4 billion won ($1.14 million) to the International Vaccine Institute and will give the remaining sum over the next five years.

A total of 38 patients died from last year's MERS outbreak, with 186 confirmed cases of infection last year -- the majority of which came from Samsung's Medical Center, which received criticism for poor handling of the contamination. Patients as well as staff at the hospital were affected by the virus that stemmed from a businessman returning from Saudi Arabia.

The outbreak was announced to be officially over in December after 218 days.

Lee Jae-yong, Samsung Electronics vice chairman, made a personal public apology last June, and promised to fund research into finding a vaccine and cure for MERS at the time.

He succeeded as chair of the Samsung Foundation following his father and chairman Lee Kun-hee's heart attack. The elder Lee is currently hospitalised at the medical center.

Since the outbreak, Samsung Medical Center has applied stricter rules for relatives and staff visiting patients to limit the spread of contaminating diseases.

Samsung has designated the medical industry as a key growth engine for the future, with Samsung Electronics currently working on medical devices, and its smartphone business developing more health platforms. Joint venture Samsung Bioepis is also building a factory in the country to manufacture affordable and high-quality biopharmaceutical and biosimilar products.

A spokesman for the foundation said it was keeping the promise the chair made last year.

Meanwhile, the South Korea's science ministry announced it will fund 3 billion won ($2.44 million) of research into the Zika virus that is affecting Brazil.

South Korea has become sensitive to contaminating diseases entering its territory since the MERS outbreak last year, with the government promising to draw-up protocols to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.


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