[Ip-health] Ed Silverman: Ecuador becomes the latest country to eye compulsory licensing for Covid-19 products

Luis Gil Abinader luis.gil.abinader at keionline.org
Mon Mar 23 18:29:24 PDT 2020


Ecuador becomes the latest country to eye compulsory licensing for Covid-19

By ED SILVERMAN @Pharmalot

MARCH 23, 2020

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, Ecuador has become the latest
country in which lawmakers are looking to issue compulsory licenses for
medicines and vaccines to combat Covid-19 and ensure their citizens have
access to any medical products.

Late last week, a committee in the National Assembly approved a resolution
asking the Minister of Health to issue licenses that would allow the
government to sidestep patents related to Covid-19 medical technologies.
The resolution would also have the health minister ask the World Health
Organization to collect R&D information related to any products.

“This resolution is a clear example of the provisions of a (government
code), which establishes the need to weigh intellectual property rights
with fundamental rights, to guarantee an adequate balance between owners
and users,” according to Hernan Nunez, the executive director of the
Ecuadoran Institute for Intellectual Property, a government agency, and who
is also a researcher at the University of Alcala.

“If in situations like the current one, the intellectual property system
cannot provide solutions for the benefit of the population, we should
necessarily rethink the model,” he wrote in a blog posted by Knowledge
Ecology International, an advocacy group that examines patent and access to
medicines issues, and first reported the resolution.

We asked the Association of Latin American Pharmaceutical Laboratories in
Ecuador for comment and will update you accordingly.

This marks the third time in the past week that a government officials or
lawmakers in a country have taken steps to issue a compulsory license in
response to Covid-19. Last week, Chile’s lower house of Congress passed
nearly unanimously a resolution that would permit the government to issue
compulsory licenses for any medicines, vaccines, or diagnostics for
combating the pandemic.

And the Israeli government approved a license to purchase a generic copy of
the Kaletra HIV pill after speculation rose the drug could be used to
combat the coronavirus, even though a paper published a few days earlier in
the New England Journal of Medicine raised doubts about its effectiveness
to do so. AbbVie (ABBV), which makes the pill, responded by waiving
worldwide restrictions on licenses held by a nonprofit.

As noted previously, the move comes against a backdrop of mounting angst
over the rising cost of medicines, which has prompted a growing number of
countries to consider the use of compulsory licenses.

A country may grant such a 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
section of a World Trade Organization agreement known as the Trade-Related
Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS (here is a primer).

The move toward licensing in some countries is not new. Across the globe, a
growing number of cash-strapped governments are grappling with the rising
cost of medicines, which has prompted increased interest in licensing.
Among those exploring licensing has been Colombia, Peru, Malaysia, and The

For their part, drug makers argue licensing eviscerates patent rights and
have successfully lobbied U.S. officials over the years to lean on
countries that have pursued or considered licensing. The U.S. Trade
Representative, for instance, has regularly cited countries in an annual
report that looks at intellectual property rights. Last year, Ecuador was
one of more than two dozen countries on a watch list (see page 10).

As we explained last week, the issue may take on an added urgency now,
though, in the wake of Covid-19 amid concerns that a therapy or vaccine
might be priced out of reach for any number of people. And one expert
believes alternative suppliers will answer the call.

“The more countries issue compulsory licenses or prepare themselves to
issue compulsory licenses, the more likely” we will see companies attempt
to meet demand, according to Ken Shadlen, a political scientist at the
London School of Economics, who studies the global pharmaceutical industry
and patent issues

“And related to this, I happen to think that’s why (pharmaceutical industry
trade groups) are so opposed to compulsory licensing, anywhere and at any
time, because if there is global demand for drugs from alternative
suppliers, then those alternative suppliers might materialize,” he wrote us.

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