[Ip-health] Telegraph: WHO patent pool for potential Covid-19 products is ‘nonsense’, pharma leaders claim

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri May 29 07:46:41 PDT 2020

patent pool for potential Covid-19 products is ‘nonsense’, pharma leaders

Big pharma fights to protect intellectual property and profit in
coronavirus vaccine race
BySarah Newey, <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/authors/sarah-newey/> GLOBAL

Pharmaceutical giants have branded as “nonsense” a voluntary scheme to
share information, including trial data and patent rights, to develop and
widely distribute coronavirus treatments, vaccines and diagnostics.

The initiative, due to be formally launched by the World Health
Organization and Costa Rica later today, was proposed to lower production
costs and increase access to medical supplies worldwide.

The objections of big pharma could yet scupper it even before details are

“Anything that’s new will always face resistance,” said Jose Mauricio,
director of communications at the non-governmental organisation Unitaid.
“But we will not be able to fulfil global demand for diagnostics,
therapeutics and vaccines if there isn't a global approach – which is what
the new call to action promotes.”

There are growing concerns that nationalism may hamper global cooperation
trigger bidding wars and global shortages, as countries scramble to gain
access to tools that could contain the pandemic. Already countries
including the US and UK have signed deals to secure supplies
their populations first.

But while pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and
Johnson & Johnson said they supported efforts to ensure the “equitable
distribution” of vaccines and treatments, their executives condemned the
concept of intellectual property (IP) pools during a press briefing on

“I think it is nonsense and at this point of time it’s also dangerous,”
said Dr Albert Bourla, chief executive of Pfizer. “There’s a giant effort
right now happening to find a solution.The risks we are taking [represent]
billions of dollars and the chances of developing something are still not
very good.

“So to have a discussion, to say keep in mind that if you discover [a
vaccine or drug], we are going to take your IP, I think it’s dangerous,” he

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, who have partnered with
Oxford University
develop and distribute a potential vaccine and received millions in funding
from the UK government, added: “I think IP is a fundamental part of our
industry and if you don't protect IP, then essentially there is no
incentive for anybody to innovate.”

And asked if he would attend the virtual launch event this afternoon Thomas
Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical
Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) responded: “I’m too busy.”

During the World Health Assembly last week
resolution proposed by the European Union calling for equitable access to
vaccines, treatments and diagnostics was passed almost unanimously. The US
alone distanced itself from the motion, saying any surrendering of IP
rights would stifle innovation.

But commentators have claimed that the resolution was watered down in
advance of the meeting due to pressure from the pharmaceutical industry,
particularly around the concept of voluntary patent pools.

These could put pharmaceuticals under pressure to give up the monopolies on
vaccines and therapeutics – which allow them to charge high prices – and
would enable all countries and manufacturers to make or buy affordable
versions, called “generic” drugs. This could help the world ramp up
production of drugs and vaccines.

“[The WHA] have done nothing to compel the pharmaceutical industry to pool
patents so that any nation with the means can quickly manufacture or import
affordable vaccines, treatments and tests,” Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s health
policy manager, said last week.

“Politicians must step up and provide a cast-iron guarantee that they will
put public health before the profits of the pharmaceutical industry,” she

The WHO-backed initiative due to be launched today, called the Solidarity
Call to Action
was first proposed by the Costa Rican President amid mounting concerns that
medical supplies may not be accessible for poorer countries.

It comes after the WHO announced the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator
(Act) last month, which has gained widespread support from governments,
pharmaceutical companies and non-governmental organisations. The scheme
agreed broadly to work together to advance the development of therapeutics,
vaccines and diagnostics for Covid-19.

But the framework for ensuring that end products are accessible to all is
far from agreed and many experts see licensing as a major barrier. The new
access pool been described as a vital step towards establishing concrete
proposals for ensuring “equitable distribution” of supplies is achieved.

Dr Peter Beyer, senior adviser at the WHO, insisted that the scheme would
not prevent companies seeing a return on investment or see the intellectual
property seized, with a focus on voluntary contributions and generic

“This doesn't preclude that you can earn money from products, because they
can make money from royalties,” he said. “And this is not a call against IP
– companies should file for patents around the world. But intellectual
property sharing is a good thing, it enables faster development in these
times of crisis.”

Unitaid and the Medicines Patent Pool – a UN backed agency that has agreed
generic licenses for HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis drugs with
pharmaceutical giants for use in lower-income countries – have also
expressed support for the new WHO scheme.

“Already we have seen with face masks and PPE, countries have been
scrambling to get them,” said Karin Timmermans, an expert in intellectual
property and access at Unitaid. “If something is not done, it’s a very
likely scenario that when there is a vaccine or effective treatment this
will happen again. And always the same countries will be missing out.

“That is what Costa Rica’s proposal and the initiative being launched today
seeks to address – it puts in one place a comprehensive system of sharing
all the information, data, rights that would be needed to enable rights
based manufacturing.”

She added that previous initiatives have focused on tiered pricing – with
developing countries paying less to access the same drugs via generic
licenses. But this approach is unlikely to work during a pandemic when
everyone needs access to the same medical products at the same time, said
Ms Timmermans.

Dr Peter Beyer added that there were four key elements of the call to
action, due to be launched later today.

These include: public disclosure of gene sequences and data in research;
transparency around the publication of all clinical trial results;
encouraging governments to include clauses in contracts with pharmaceutical
companies about equitable distribution and the publication of trial data;
and licensing any potential treatment or vaccine to the Medicines Patent
Pool "to the masses".

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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