[Ip-health] Trilateral symposium: WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo highlights the opportunities and challenges faced in providing access to CAR T

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri Nov 1 00:05:58 PDT 2019


Trilateral symposium: WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo highlights the
opportunities and challenges faced in providing access to CAR T

Posted on November 1, 2019 by Thiru

On Thursday, 31 October 2019, the World Trade Organization (WTO) hosted the
eighth trilateral symposium jointly convened by the World Health
Organization (WHO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
The theme of this year’s symposium was ” “Cutting-Edge Health Technologies:
Opportunities and Challenges” including developments in cell and gene

In his opening remarks, WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo zeroed in on
the “remarkable possibilities” provided by CAR T in “treating certain
cancers” while noting that CAR T therapies were “costly and
resource-intensive” which could “strain health budgets.” His full remarks
can be found here <https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spra_e/spra291_e.htm>.

   One question you will be exploring today is how IP settings relate to
   cutting-edge technologies such as gene-editing. This goes beyond technical
   details about patentability and the scope of rights and exceptions. It also
   concerns how these rights are deployed.

   For instance, consider CAR-T [(chimeric antigen receptor)] cell therapy,
   which offers remarkable possibilities for treating certain cancers. The
   therapy, which is still under development, involves taking a natural white
   blood cell and genetically transforming it so that it attacks cancerous
   cells when it’s reintroduced into the patient’s body.

   This is a promising area of medical research – one that involves both
   public and private actors. A recent survey showed that public sector
   research institutions held 40% of patents in this area, while private firms
   hold 49%. How they choose to license these technologies will be an
   important factor in how therapies are rolled out in practice.

   And while CAR-T cell therapy represents a dramatic breakthrough with
   enormous potential, it is also a costly and resource-intensive form of
   treatment that may strain health budgets.

   These are complex questions that will benefit from discussions like this
   one, bringing together a wide range of actors with a wealth of practical

   Trade, in the sense of the cross-border movement of goods and services,
   also contributes to public health by helping ensure the availability of new

   No single country – and still less, vulnerable developing countries –
   will ever be fully self-reliant for the medical technologies they need.

   Facilitating trade also means facilitating access to medical
   technologies and inputs, which reduces the ultimate cost of treatment.

   Let’s take, again, that gene-editing T‑cell cancer therapy. In some
   forms of it, blood cells are taken from the cancer patient, sent to one of
   the few international centres with the necessary capacity to modify them,
   and then returned to the original location to be reinfused.

At fora including the Brocher Foundation, the World Health Assembly and the
WIPO Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP), Knowledge Ecology
International (KEI) has encouraged policymakers to examine the implications
of Article 27.3(a) of the WTO TRIPS Agreement on the patentability of gene-
and cell-based therapies including those involving autologous T-cell
immunotherapy (CAR T), CRISPR and other technologies when treatment can be
described as a service or a medical procedure, rather than a product. In
particular, policymakers should explore if certain cell- and gene-based
treatments are, in fact, exempt from patentability when a country has an
exception that mirrors Article 27.3(a) of the TRIPS Agreement.

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

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