[Ip-health] The Financial Times: Big drugmakers under pressure to share patents against coronavirus - WHO backs making pharmaceuticals open up intellectual property as it did to fight HIV/Aids

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Mar 31 04:45:16 PDT 2020


Pharmaceuticals sector
Big drugmakers under pressure to share patents against coronavirus
WHO backs making pharmaceuticals open up intellectual property as it did to
fight HIV/Aids

Donato Paolo Mancini in London AN HOUR AGO

Drugmakers are facing mounting calls to give up their patent rights for
potentially life-saving treatments and vaccines for coronavirus as
authorities worldwide race to curb the pandemic’s death toll.

The heads of the World Health Organization and Unitaid, a UN-backed group
funding global health innovation, have welcomed a proposal devised by Costa
Rica for companies voluntarily to pool their intellectual property for all
medical interventions — including treatment, vaccines and diagnostics.

Doing so would enable governments or generic drugmakers to manufacture and
sell the products at much lower prices than are currently available in the
world market.

Marisol Touraine, Unitaid’s chair and a former French health minister, told
the Financial Times that “extraordinary circumstances” warranted
“extraordinary solutions”.

Pharmaceutical companies have joined intellectual property pools in the
past that have enabled treatments for HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and Hepatitis
C to be extended to low-income countries at affordable prices. The proposed
coronavirus pool, however, would be available to countries worldwide.

Daniel Salas, Costa Rica’s health minister, told the Financial Times he was
hopeful the WHO would soon go ahead with the plan.

In a statement, the WHO said it was committed to equitable access,
including for interventions related to Covid-19, the disease caused by the
novel coronavirus. “We are exploring all avenues to ensure people who need
it have access to effective and safe products for Covid-19,” it said.

On Monday, a vast mobilisation of global healthcare groups to fight the
virus accelerated with Johnson & Johnson announcing a potential vaccine
that could be available early next year. Abbott Laboratories has also
launched a rapid test kit.

Drugmakers are usually jealous guardians of their most lucrative patents,
which expire years after they are first filed.

Gilead Sciences performed a U-turn last week, renouncing a so-called orphan
drug designation in the US that granted special status to its potential
coronavirus treatment remdesivir, and did so only 48 hours after first
disclosing it.

Gilead said it was aware of the Costa Rican proposal and that it would
evaluate any programme once it was defined by the WHO.

AbbVie, which makes a potential treatment known as Kaletra, gave up
its global intellectual property rights for the drug after Israel issued a
“compulsory licence” that enables the country to use it against coronavirus
without the patent holder’s consent.

Germany, Canada, Australia and Chile have all taken steps or are weighing
up moves to issue compulsory licences more easily.

Switzerland’s Roche, which makes testing kits for the virus, agreed to
share the recipe for its testing liquid with the Dutch government after
lawmakers there accused it of rationing supply and significantly decreasing
national testing capabilities.

The company declined to comment on the shortage but noted there was no
intellectual property protection surrounding the liquid.

Supporters of the Costa Rican proposal include the former patent chiefs of
Switzerland’s Novartis and US biotech Gilead.

Members of the European Parliament and several groups, including Médecins
Sans Frontières, have separately said monopolies should not be granted in
the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Ms Touraine, Unitaid chair, said: “Solidarity is not only a question of
humanitarian approach and perspective, it’s also a very rational approach.
To fight a global pandemic we need a global response and we need to provide
equitable access to treatment.”

Jamie Love, of Knowledge Ecology International, an intellectual property
advocacy group, said: “This is a moment, a crisis, that calls for people to
co-operate and take care of each other. The effort to pool the rights in
technologies and data globally is designed to make things happen faster and
to have more equal outcomes, globally.”

Sanofi and Eli Lilly, which are investigating vaccines and potential
treatment candidates, did not respond to requests for comment.

IFPMA, a European lobby group for drugmakers, said the effects of the
pooling proposal on the current pandemic would likely be very limited.
IFPMA however said the industry had a “strong sense of responsibility” to
act alongside governments and health systems worldwide.

Bruno Bulic, a pharma analyst at Baader Helvea, said the industry had come
under intense scrutiny in recent years over claims of profiteering. “The
time has come to prove industry opponents wrong, and that's best done by
lifting the toll booth,” he said.

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

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