[Ip-health] With text. Statement of Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) on WHO Launch of the COVID-19 Technology Pool

James Love james.love at keionline.org
Fri May 29 08:19:24 PDT 2020

The links are in the version on the web page.


Statement of Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) on WHO Launch of the
COVID-19 Technology Pool

May 29, 2020.

KEI supports the “WHO Solidarity Call to Action: To realize equitable
global access to COVID-19 health technologies through pooling of knowledge,
intellectual property and data,” which, by the way, is a great title.
 (link here)

There are many positive aspects of this call to action, which was first
proposed by the President and Minister of Health of Costa Rica, and which
is now joined by dozens of countries from around the world. Focusing on
universal access, international cooperation and solidarity, it points to
concrete measures to address a key element of this effort: the access to or
control of the inventions, data, know-how and biologic materials that are
instrumental for manufacturing diagnostic tests, drugs, vaccines and other
important technologies to diagnosis, treat and prevent COVID-19. Notably,
the call is not restricted by the type of intellectual property, the
technologies or the geography. Transparency, which is essential, is also

The call focuses on voluntary action because the WHO does not grant or
limit rights in patents, data or know-how; that is done at the national
level, either through statutes, funding contractors or purchasing
agreements. The role of national governments is extremely important, and
while some of the focus has been on the poor responses from companies like
Pfizer and AstraZeneca, such as at yesterday’s IFPMA press briefing, the
role of government deserves more attention.

Of late, the Trump Administration has been scapegoating the WHO, in order
to deflect responsibility for the United States’ mounting death toll and
economic contractions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some of the
other countries that have yet to support the WHO technology pool are also
important. In the European Union, Germany, France, Italy and Spain (its
four most populous countries), are not among the initial supporters of the
pool, despite all four making numerous calls for solidarity in the past
weeks. Among the BRICS countries, only Brazil and South Africa are listed
as supporters, while China, India and Russia have yet to endorse.
Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK are also missing as endorsing

On the other hand, CEPI, a major funder of COVID-19 vaccine research, will
be on the call today, and while CEPI probably is not going as far as KEI
wants, it is engaging and making a positive contribution. The Gates
Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and other private funders should also
support this effort.

For those UN agencies, countries, NGOs, experts and other individuals
supporting this call, including large NGOs like MSF and Oxfam, and dozens
if not hundreds of other groups (of all sizes), your role is extremely
important now, in order to move this idea into a reality, with concrete,
practical outcomes.  Ellen ‘t Hoen deserves a special mention for her work
to expand support for the pool.

Trade associations like the IFPMA internationally, and PhRMA in the United
States, have tried to block progress on the WHO pool, even though it is a
largely voluntary measure, because they don’t want transparent and
inclusive participation in setting even voluntary standards for sharing
rights in technologies. As part of this opposition, some trade associations
(particularly PhRMA) and companies have downplayed the massive role of
public sector subsidies for COVID-19 R&D, and the fact that much of the R&D
has been de-risked by governments and other donors. Companies have also
downplayed the role of patents and other rights as a factor that can both
slow down the process and drive up the costs of making vaccines, as well as
block competition or even stop some vaccines from being made.  (examples of
vaccine patent disputes here)

Incentives provided by exclusive rights in inventions, data, etc., can be
important, but exclusive rights also have  costs. The rationale for
exclusive rights is particularly weak in this pandemic, when the market is
enormous, companies cannot even meet demand, and the government subsidies
have been huge. It is notable that the WHO has among its speakers a recent
CEO of Gilead, Gregg Alton, and a recent head of global intellectual
property for Novartis, Paul Fehlner, who will both provide strong
statements in favor of the pool.

KEI will continue to work with others to expand access to COVID-19
technologies, and to enhance transparency of all aspects of the research
and development costs, subsidies and outcomes, prices and access.

The WHO and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus are to be commended for their
leadership, despite a lack of support from several of the WHO’s largest
funders, so far. This is the right thing to do, and they have worked hard
to move this forward.

US press coverage of the WHO proposal on pooling has been limited to a
handful of trade and speciality publications, but the initiative has been
covered more extensively in some other countries.

For more information

James Love, Director, KEI, james.love at keionline.org +1.202.361.3040
Thiru Balasubramaniam, KEI Europe, thiru at keionline.org

James Love.  Knowledge Ecology International
U.S. Mobile +1.202.361.3040
U.S. office phone +1.202.332.2670
http://www.keionline.org <http://www.keionline.org/donate.html>

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