[Ip-health] World leaders hatch further plans for accessibility of covid-19 IP rights

Luis Gil Abinader luis.gil.abinader at keionline.org
Thu Apr 9 15:34:29 PDT 2020


Adam Houldsworth
Author | Life sciences reporter
adam.houldsworth at lbresearch.com

Earlier this week, IAM reported on numerous recent political and
legislative developments laying the foundation for the compulsory licensing
of covid-19 related patents around the world. But these are not the only
proposals for improving accessibility to innovations that could play a part
in treating coronavirus patients.

Not only are wheels in motion to create a World Health Organization
voluntary pool of IP rights, but two senior European politicians are also
suggesting that the EU should buy covid-19 related rights and establish a
publicly-owned patent pool or fund. The latter would constitute a
significant development in the IP marketplace and an unprecedented
government effort to ensure that patents do not obstruct the fight against
the pandemic. The extent to which the scheme would preserve innovation
incentives is unclear.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on Monday that he
supported the proposal of the Costa Rican government to establish a
voluntary pool for patents and data relating to covid-19 tests, medicines
and vaccines. This is intended to provide “free access or licensing on
reasonable and affordable terms for all countries,” he said, adding that he
is now working with Costa Rica to finalise the details. Warning that the
poorest societies would suffer the worst shocks from coronavirus, he called
on “all countries, companies and research institutions to support open
data, open science and open collaboration so that all people can enjoy the
benefits of science and research”.

This came just a few days after the UN Medicines Patent Pool and UNITAID,
which license drug rights to less economically developed countries,
expanded their own activities to include covid-19 related treatments.

The extent to which innovators will choose to place their IP rights in the
WHO pool is unclear. Given the severity of the pandemic, several rights
holders have already pledged not to exclude others from using their
inventions. AbbVie announced that it will not enforce its patents on
Kaletra (usually used to treat HIV, but thought potentially to treat
covid-19) and Gilead sought to rescind its seven-year orphan drug
exclusivity period for the repurposed Remdesivir, for example. Altruistic
motives – combined with the threat of reputational damage – may cause
others to act similarly.

But some innovators may wish to withhold certain rights from such schemes,
either because they seek greater remuneration or because they favour
case-by-case licensing arrangements. Industry responses to suggestions of a
patent pool have been positive but not emphatic. While patent pooling can
serve to stimulate innovation and expand access, “its effects to address
the current situation will likely be very limited,” said IFPMA chief Thomas
Cueni at the end of March. This week, he stated that pharma innovators are
open to exploring innovative approaches to partnership, but also said that
no “one size fits all” solution exists. No commitment to IP sharing was
included in IFPMA’s covid-19 mission statement last month.

The WHO IP pool might not be the only attempt to aggregate
coronavirus-related patents. The Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos
Mitsotakis, this week proposed that the EU should buy patents for
innovative covid-19 tests and medicines in order to ensure that they can be
supplied quickly in all member states.

This proposal originates with the Greek government coronavirus
representative and adviser Professor Elias Mosialos of the London School of
Economics. Arguing that US and British government funding for covid-19
research may have secured them preferential rights, he suggests that
countries like Spain and Italy are in danger of being left with a shortage
of treatments and tests.

Speaking to German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Mitsotakis
said that “European governments could reward vaccine manufacturers by
buying their patents at reasonable costs”, thereby striking a balance
between maintaining incentives for innovation and providing fair access to
treatments at an affordable price. For many governments this has become an
even more pressing issue because of the general economic shock the covid-19
pandemic has caused and the huge spending commitments that have been made
to mitigate the damage.

In the same ball park is this week’s suggestion by Spain’s science minister
Pedro Duque that the EU should create a publicly-backed fund to produce a
patent bank for coronavirus treatments.

It is uncertain how much traction such proposals will gain; the
recommendations are made against a background of complex north-south
tensions within the bloc. Should the EU become a buyer of covid-19 patents,
it would be another unprecedented development in government approaches to
IP rights. It would also raise practical questions about what a
‘reasonable’ payment is in the current context, at what stage in the
innovation process the patents should be bought and how such rights would
be monetised post-pandemic.

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