[Ip-health] Wall Street Journal (Editorial Board): Watch Out for a Vaccine Patent Heist

Paul Fehlner pfehlner at revisiontx.com
Thu Apr 1 20:57:10 PDT 2021

It’s a rare day when I can agree with a Wall Street Journal editorial, and this was one. Breaking patents will not result in technology transfer needed to ensure faster manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and other products. Instead it will slow access to the approved vaccines by provoking resistance and a reduction in cooperation by private sector companies. 

Breaking patents without an effective alternative plan for stimulating innovation would not only fail to help the immediate COVID-19 emergency, it could chill investment in the discovery and development of innovative medicines (including repurposed ones). 

It seems to me that competition provides the better solution. The countries calling for patent waivers have scientific and medical expertise that, in aggregate, is on par with the US, Europe, Japan, and China. Why not combine those capabilities to create an alternative drug development paradigm to challenge the existing one? Use a technology pool like the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool to combine the capabilities of India, South Africa, and the co-sponsors of the waiver, like-minded countries, sympathetic support of research institutions, elements of developed country governments, and civil society to harness the existing intellectual property to develop COVID-19 solutions. Offering innovative medicines at much lower prices — the presumed goal of such an alternative model — would more effectively force the incumbents to be more competitive. 

And as even the right wing Wall Street Journal points out, TRIPS allows for compulsory licensing in an emergency, so patented technology is there for the taking. With the resources of even a consortium of developing countries, rapid development of manufacturing capability based on published patented technology should be both possible and desirable.

> On Mar 29, 2021, at 6:49 AM, Thiru Balasubramaniam <thiru at keionline.org> wrote:
> https://www.wsj.com/articles/watch-out-for-a-vaccine-patent-heist-11616959785
> ?
> Watch Out for a Vaccine Patent Heist
> The left wants Biden to force drug companies to give away their IP.
> By The Editorial Board
> March 28, 2021 3:29 pm ET
> Pharmaceutical companies have come to the world’s rescue with Covid-19
> vaccines, but these days no good deed by business goes unpunished. The
> Biden Administration is now under pressure to support a political campaign
> to break vaccine patents.
> India and South Africa last fall petitioned the World Trade Organization to
> suspend intellectual property protections on Covid vaccines and treatments,
> which they say is necessary to expand global access. Fifty-five other
> countries plus an army of nonprofiits and labor unions have joined the
> attempted heist.
> “Multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical companies continue to prioritize
> profits by protecting their monopolies,” Bernie Sanders says. Adds
> Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro : “We need to make the public policy choices
> both in the U.S. and at the WTO that puts patients first.”
> Patent-breakers are presenting a false choice between protecting
> intellectual property and public health. Breaking patents won’t accelerate
> vaccine production or distribution to poor countries. Pharmaceutical
> companies are ramping up manufacturing as fast as they can, including in
> low-income countries.
> Merck is reconfiguring factories to produce Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine,
> while Novartis and Sanofi are making Pfizer -BioNTech’s mRNA shots. Novavax
> has tapped Baxter BioPharma Solutions and Endo International. The Serum
> Institute of India plans to make a billion doses of Novavax this year. J&J
> has enlisted Aspen Pharmacare in South Africa and Biological E in India.
> In short, vaccine developers are already sharing their IP. Covid mRNA and
> vector-vaccines are complicated biological products that require expertise
> to manufacture. Even if the WTO suspended patent protections, India and
> South Africa still couldn’t make vaccines without cooperation from the
> developers.
> WTO rules already allow low-income countries to force drug makers to
> license patents for medications during “national emergencies” or “other
> circumstances of extreme urgency” such as HIV or tuberculosis epidemics.
> But the WTO can’t make drug makers share their expertise. So what’s the
> point of the WTO campaign?
> Answer: To bully pharmaceutical companies and Western governments to donate
> more vaccines. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom
> Ghebreyesus, who supports the WTO campaign, last week called the gap
> between vaccines distributed in rich and poor countries “grotesque.”
> What’s really grotesque is the left’s failure to understand that private
> innovation and investment benefit everyone. Covid vaccines are now
> available because of decades of research and tens of billions in investment
> by U.S. and European companies into vaccines for other infectious diseases,
> which kill more people in poor countries than Covid does. The AIDS/HIV
> death rate in South Africa is nearly three times higher than for Covid.
> There would be more deaths if not for medicines developed in the U.S. and
> Europe. In 2012 J&J introduced the first novel treatment for multi-drug
> resistant TB in nearly half a century. About 2.5 times more people died of
> tuberculosis in India in 2019 than have from Covid.
> Profits enabled by patents provide the incentive to innovate. J&J and
> AstraZeneca, both diversified giants, have agreed not to profit from Covid
> vaccines. But Novavax and Moderna have been investing in vaccine research
> for years—more than 30 in Novavax’s case—and their Covid shots are their
> first success. Companies won’t continue to invest if they aren’t allowed to
> make a profit.
> As for inequitable distribution, U.S. and European governments have donated
> billions of dollars to a WHO-backed initiative to distribute vaccines to
> poor countries. AstraZeneca has promised to allocate nearly two-thirds of
> its vaccines to the developing world. J&J has pledged up to 500 million
> doses, and Novavax 1.1 billion.
> Low-income countries may have to wait a little longer for vaccines, but the
> European Union and the U.S. account for 10% of the world’s population and
> 40% of Covid deaths. That’s in part because their populations are much
> older, and Covid mostly kills the elderly. The faster vaccines are
> distributed in Europe and U.S., the sooner their government lockdowns—which
> have caused economic damage and increased poverty in low-income
> countries—will ease.
> The fabulous vaccine success should be a moment to celebrate U.S. property
> rights and innovation. Instead, the American and global left see an opening
> for government to confiscate and redistribute. If the Biden White House
> lets it happen, the wait for vaccines and treatments will be longer during
> the rest of this pandemic and the next one.
> Appeared in the March 29, 2021, print edition.
> -- 
> Thiru Balasubramaniam
> Geneva Representative
> Knowledge Ecology International
> 41 22 791 6727
> thiru at keionline.org
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