[Ip-health] Stat: European Union urges the World Health Assembly to pursue a voluntary pool for Covid-19 products

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Apr 16 10:04:23 PDT 2020


European Union urges the World Health Assembly to pursue a voluntary pool
for Covid-19 products
By ED SILVERMAN @Pharmalot
APRIL 16, 2020

In a significant development, the European Union has proposed a draft
resolution urging the World Health Assembly to voluntarily pool
intellectual property as part of a plan to ensure “equitable access” to
vaccines, treatments, and other medical products for combating the pandemic.

The move, which anticipates the WHA will hold a virtual session next month,
comes after the World Health Organization Director General last week
endorsed the idea of creating such a pool to collect patent rights,
regulatory test data, and other information that could be shared for
developing drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics.

The concept was proposed last month by Costa Rican government officials
amid mounting concerns that some Covid-19 medical products may not be
accessible for poorer populations. By creating a voluntary mechanism under
the auspices of the WHO, a pathway could be used to attract numerous
governments, as well as industry players, universities, and nonprofit

The draft also suggested the WHA, which is a decision-making body of the
World Health Organization, work with the World Intellectual Property
Organization, the Medicines Patent Pool, Unitaid, UNICEF, the Coalition for
Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and
Malaria, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

By pursuing such a resolution, the EU provides a mandate to establish a
voluntary pool and, in the process, also underscores a stark contrast with
the U.S., which wants to end its funding to the WHO, noted Thiru
Balasubramaniam of Knowledge Ecology International, an advocacy group that
focuses on the intersection of intellectual property and access to

The voluntary pool approach, however, is distinct from simultaneous efforts
being promoted by several dozen advocacy groups and academic experts that
are urging countries to make greater use of compulsory licensing. This is a
tactic that, over the years, some cash-strapped governments have pursued in
response to the high cost of medicines, triggering battles with drug makers
over patent rights.

A country may grant a compulsory 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 known as the Trade-Related Aspects of
Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS.

“The whole fight out there between those who think pools are the way to go
and those who say licensing is the way to go comes down to whether you make
it voluntary for a firm or have the state decide,” said Ken Shadlen, a
political scientist at the London School of Economics, who studies the
global pharmaceutical industry and patent issues, and signed the letter
concerning licensing. “Some believe you can’t rely on firms to act

The idea of a voluntary pool has already won support from Unitaid and the
Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed agency that licenses HIV,
tuberculosis, and hepatitis C treatments from drug makers and provides
access in lower-income countries. The MPP deliberately expanded its mandate
to include Covid-19 products.

Over the past month, though, lawmakers in Chile and Ecuador passed
resolutions urging their governments to explore licensing. Canadian
lawmakers passed a bill to speed the process of issuing licenses. Germany
extended the right to suspend patents rights. And Israel approved a license
for a pill, prompting the manufacturer to relinquish patent rights and
waive restrictions to generic supplies on a global basis.

About the Author

Ed Silverman
Pharmalot Columnist, Senior Writer
Ed covers the pharmaceutical industry.

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

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