[Ip-health] Stat (Pharmalot): Pharma leaders shoot down WHO voluntary pool for patent rights on Covid-19 products

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri May 29 07:53:30 PDT 2020


Pharma leaders shoot down WHO voluntary pool for patent rights on Covid-19
By ED SILVERMAN @PharmalotMAY 28, 2020

The heads of some of the world’s largest drug makers expressed a mix of
confusion and resistance to a World Health Organization voluntary pool to
collect patent rights, regulatory test data, and other information that
could be shared for developing Covid-19 therapies, vaccines, and

The WHO effort reflects mounting concern that some Covid-19 medical
products may not be accessible for poorer populations. By establishing a
voluntary mechanism under the auspices of the WHO, the goal is to establish
a pathway that will attract numerous governments, as well as industry,
universities and nonprofit organizations. But not every executive likes the

“At this point in time, I think it’s nonsense, and… it’s also dangerous,”
said Pfizer (PFE) chief executive Albert Bourla in remarks at a forum
Thursday organized by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical
Manufacturers & Associations. Companies are “investing billions to find a
solution and, keep in mind, if you have a discovery, we are going to take
your (intellectual property), I think, is dangerous.”

Similarly, AstraZeneca (AZN) chief executive Pascal Soriot argued at the
forum that intellectual property is “a fundamental part of our industry and
if you don’t protect IP, then essentially, there is no incentive for
anybody to innovate. What is important is for companies to volunteer to
provide their products at no profit, like we’re doing right now in case of
a pandemic or crisis, when it’s needed.”

Related: WHO embraces plan for Covid-19 intellectual property pool

It was not clear about the extent to which the executives were familiar
with the WHO effort, which is set to launch on Friday. Rather than seize
intellectual property, the pool would seek contributions from industry and
nonprofit institutions, among others. Soriot, for instance, initially
acknowledged he was “not aware of the initiative” and would “have to
consider it.”

Nonetheless, there is resistance. Thomas Cueni, who heads the IFPMA trade
group, argued mechanisms already exist for companies to license rights to
make their drugs. He cited the Medicines Patent Pool, which focuses on
HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria, but recently expanded its scope to include
Covid-19 products. “I’m not sure, to be honest, we do need additional
platforms,” he said.

The WHO pool, however, was already endorsed by UNITAID, which helped create
the Medicines Patent Pool. Meanwhile, approximately two dozen countries
have agreed to join, according to sources. The list includes Norway, Costa
Rica, Chile, Luxembourg, South Africa, Mexico, Portugal, Oman, Panama,
Peru, South Africa, Ecuador, and Egypt. The U.S., however, has rejected any

One advocate suggested the remarks were part of an effort to undermine
interest among other countries.

“They have not yet spent much time understanding it. They could collect
royalties, for instance, to compensate for contributions, although these
are details that need to be sorted,” said Ellen ‘t Hoen, a senior
researcher in the global health unit at the University of Groningen in the
Netherlands and a former executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool.
“But anyone who pitches this as something that seizes patents is
deliberately misrepresenting it. They should come to the table.”

Related: With remdesivir, Gilead finds itself at strategic crossroads, with
its reputation (and far more) at stake

The concept emerged from moves by countries to consider compulsory
licensing for unaffordable medicines. A country may grant a license to a
public agency or a generic drug maker, allowing it to copy a patented
medicine without the consent of the brand-name company that owns the
patent. This right was memorialized in a World Trade Organization agreement.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has ratcheted up this sort of activity.
Over the past two months, several countries have taken steps to make it
easier to issue compulsory licenses. The pharmaceutical industry argues
that licenses eviscerate patent rights, but advocacy groups say industry
efforts to enforce intellectual property rights may come at the expense of
patients who cannot afford increasingly costly medicines.

In some cases, however, drug maker have reached voluntary licensing deals
with generic companies to produce and sell certain medicines in other
countries. Gilead Sciences, for instance, did so with hepatitis C
treatments and, more recently, with its experimental remdesivir medicines
for Covid-19. Other drug makers have worked with the Medicines Patent Pool
for HIV pills, for instance.

The voluntary pool of the sort envisioned by the WHOs goes much further,
though, by seeking to pull in technologies from a larger number of players,
rather than on a drug-by-drug, country-by-country basis. In doing so, they
hope to create more equitable access and avoid the sort of disjointed
affordability that has typified some products.

Moreover, the WHO pool is touted as an opportunity for drug makers to
change the conversation and work with governments that might otherwise take
a confrontational stance and pursue a license. Costa Rica President Carlos
Alvarado Quesada, who proposed the pool, last month described the concept
as  “a call for solidarity and a call for action” to defeat the novel

Just the same, the WHO pool was not endorsed by Emma Walmsley, the
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) chief executive officer. She did not address the pool
specifically, but maintained “there’s not a lot of enormous evidence that
(intellectual property) is a barrier to access.” And she pointed to
alternative approaches to ensuring access, such as GAVI, the nonprofit that
works with industry and government to bring vaccines to poor countries.

About the Author

Ed Silverman

Pharmalot Columnist, Senior Writer

Ed covers the pharmaceutical industry.

 ed.silverman at statnews.com

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

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