[Ip-health] The Guardian: US and UK 'lead push against global patent pool for Covid-19 drugs'

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Sun May 17 11:12:50 PDT 2020


Coronavirus outbreak
US and UK 'lead push against global patent pool for Covid-19 drugs'
Efforts to dilute world health assembly resolution on open licensing
decried as ‘appalling’

Sarah Boseley Health editor

Sun 17 May 2020 13.08 BSTLast modified on Sun 17 May 2020 15.11 BST

Ministers and officials from every nation will meet via video link on
Monday for the annual world health assembly, which is expected to be
dominated by efforts to stop rich countries monopolising drugs and future
vaccines against Covid-19.

As some countries buy up drugs thought to be useful against the
coronavirus, causing global shortages, and the Trump administration does
deals with vaccine companies to supply America first, there is dismay among
public health experts and campaigners who believe it is vital to pull
together to end the pandemic.

While the US and China face off, the EU has taken the lead. The leaders of
Italy, France, Germany and Norway, together with the European commission
and council, called earlier this month for any innovative tools,
therapeutics or vaccines to be shared equally and fairly.

“If we can develop a vaccine that is produced by the world, for the whole
world, this will be a unique global public good of the 21st century,” they
said in a statement.

The sole resolution before the assembly this year is an EU proposal for a
voluntary patent pool. Drug and vaccine companies would then be under
pressure to give up the monopoly that patents allow them on their
inventions, which means they can charge high prices, so that all countries
can make or buy affordable versions.

In the weeks of negotiations leading up to the meeting, which is scheduled
to last for less than a day, there has been a dispute over the language of
the resolution. Countries with major pharmaceutical companies argue they
need patents to guarantee sufficiently high prices in wealthy nations to
recoup their research and development costs.

Even more fraught have been attempts to reinforce countries’ existing
rights to break drug and vaccine company patent monopolies if they need to
for the sake of public health. A hard-fought battle over Aids drugs 20
years ago led to the World Trade Organization’s Doha declaration on
trade-related intellectual property (Trips) in favour of access to
medicines for all, but the US, which has some of the world’s biggest drug
companies, has strongly opposed wording that would encourage the use of

Campaigners say the resolution expected to be passed by the world health
assembly’s 198 member states is along the right lines, but too weakly

“In general, it is a disappointment, appalling really. There was better
text that was rejected,” said Jamie Love, the director of the NGO Knowledge
Ecology International. “The US, UK, Swiss and some others pushed against
the WHO taking the lead in pushing for open licensing of patents and
know-how for drugs and vaccines.

“In a global crisis like this, that has such a massive impact on everyone,
you would expect the WHO governing body to have the backbone to say no
monopolies in this pandemic. It’s one thing for a country to use its
economic clout to buy preferential access to drugs or vaccines. It’s
another to prevent others from manufacturing and expanding global supply.”

Oxfam’s health policy manager, Anna Marriott, said: “This week’s letter
calling for a people’s vaccine, which was signed by more than 140 world
leaders and experts, sets the bar for the scale of ambition we need to meet
the challenge before us.

“As we approach the final stages of this resolution, we need to see health
ministers raise their game to match this ambition. Any government that
tries to block or dilute this resolution is risking lives and standing on
the wrong side of history.”

Costa Rica will launch a voluntary patent pool later this month. Its
president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, said at the WHO last week: “The
pandemic attacks the same in each country regardless of whether you have
the resources or not. It attacks people around the world in the same way,.

“Only together with multilateralism, with that sort of leadership, can we
defeat coronavirus, not with nationalism and being selfish. It is the time
for solidarity. It is the time to work together to show humanity the best
that we are made of, the opportunity to show our brotherhood as a whole.”

Wellcome published a poll on Sunday of 2,000 people in the UK which found
96% supported the idea that national governments should work together to
ensure that treatments and vaccines can be manufactured in as many
countries as possible and distributed globally to everyone who needs them.

“We need vaccines and treatments that will work for the world, and any
advances must be available to all countries equally, without exception,”
said Alex Harris, the head of global policy at Wellcome. “No country should
consider reserving possible future vaccines and treatments for their use

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and
Associations (IFPMA) trade body says companies already share their
intellectual property with low-income countries. “We have not been included
in these discussions and have limited understanding of what exactly is
being proposed, and how it is different from the various institutions
already facilitating sharing of data, know-how” and intellectual property,
it said in a statement.

“Voluntary patent pools already exist and many companies are already
exploring collaborations and voluntary licences.”

The IFPMA also pointed out that it was already a founding partner in the
ACT Accelerator, a global partnership designed to speed up research and
development of promising and affordable interventions.

“The creation of yet another new platform appears unneeded and would direct
resources and energy away from key objectives. We have never needed
innovation so much as now and this is probably the worst possible time to
weaken intellectual property,” it said.

The invitation of Taiwan to the assembly, which has been blocked in recent
years by China, has also triggered a dispute. Taiwan has a lot of support
from countries including the US that say its handling of Covid-19 has been
exemplary and it could teach the world a lot. Beijing, however, is
pressuring other countries to block Taiwan, arguing it can only be
represented if it accepts it is part of China.

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

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