[Ip-health] FT: Countries join WHO call for virus patents to be shared

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri May 29 09:22:52 PDT 2020


The WHO has unveiled an initiative dubbed the Covid-19 technology access
pool, which aims to make treatments, vaccines and tests accessible to all
Donato Paolo Mancini in London and Michael Peel in Brussels 12 MINUTES AGO

Two dozen low-income countries have joined a World Health Organization push
for the sharing of patents for coronavirus drugs and vaccines, but they
lack support from powerful governments and large pharmaceutical groups.

The WHO on Friday unveiled an initiative dubbed the Covid-19 technology
access pool, or C-Tap, which aims to make treatments, vaccines and tests
accessible to all.

It comes amid growing tension over how to ensure fair access for all
countries to Covid-19 interventions. Many poorer countries worry they will
be squeezed out unless patents are shared, but countries that are home to
big pharmaceutical groups see such sweeping moves with concern.

C-Tap’s backers include Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Indonesia,
South Africa and Sudan. Its limited number of rich world supporters are
Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal and Belgium.

Last week, the US formally rejected the wording of a resolution passed by
World Health Organization members that backed the rights of less wealthy
countries to ignore patents over Covid-19. Washington did not vote against
the motion but warned that the text proposed by the EU and others sent “the
wrong message to innovators who will be essential to the solutions the
whole world needs”.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said: “Based on strong
science and open collaboration, this information-sharing platform will help
provide equitable access to life-saving technologies around the world.”

No pharmaceutical groups have yet agreed to share any technical information
on the platform.

Some large drugmakers have pushed back against the idea that intellectual
property should be pooled. Patents, which the pharmaceuticals industry says
are necessary to protect risky investments made to bring new molecules to
market and to innovate, have always been a moot point in discussions over
access to medicines.

In a Thursday briefing hosted by the International Federation of
Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, a lobby group, chief
executives from Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, which are
developing vaccines and treatments, all sought to distance themselves from
the pooling initiatives.

Albert Bourla, the head of Pfizer, called the idea “nonsense” and “at this
point in time, also dangerous”. Emma Walmsley, GSK chief executive, said
there was “not enormous evidence that [intellectual property] is a barrier
to access.”

Pascal Soriot, chief executive at AstraZeneca, said intellectual property
was “a fundamental part” of the industry. “If you don’t protect [it] there
is no incentive for anybody to innovate,” he said.

One company to buck the trend is AbbVie, which dropped all global patent
protection for Kaletra, an HIV drug currently being investigated for use
against Covid-19.

C-Tap calls for any potential Covid-19 interventions to be licensed for use
by any governments or companies.

“It is in everyone’s interest,” said Ellen ’t Hoen, director of Medicines
Law & Policy, an NGO. “After all, no one knows where the successful
vaccines will be developed.”

Jamie Love, director of patent advocacy group Knowledge Ecology
International, said: “Some of the companies opposing [C-Tap] will change
their tune if governments who are both funding R&D and buying the vaccines
apply some pressure.”

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

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