[Ip-health] Stat: Hundreds of advocacy groups urge WTO to waive IP rights to Covid-19 drugs and vaccines

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Oct 15 00:47:01 PDT 2020


Hundreds of advocacy groups urge WTO to waive IP rights to Covid-19 drugs
and vaccines
By ED SILVERMAN @Pharmalot
OCTOBER 14, 2020Reprints

Amid growing concern over access to Covid-19 medical products, hundreds of
advocacy groups are urging the World Trade Organization to waive some
provisions in a trade deal governing intellectual property rights so drugs
and vaccines can be more easily obtained, especially by low-income

Earlier this month, the South African and Indian governments proposed that
a WTO council, which is meeting this week, waive some rules for patents,
industrial designs, copyrights, and protection of trade secrets. And their
proposal argued the waiver “should continue until widespread vaccination is
in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed
immunity” to the coronavirus.

The proposal reflects anxiety as wealthy nations — notably, the U.S., the
U.K., Germany, and France — strike deals with various drug makers for
hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines that are still being tested. But
poorer countries lack the means to place such orders, and their officials
fear that inequitable access will cause further illness and deaths, and the
coronavirus will not be contained.

“Seven months into the pandemic, there is no meaningful global policy
solution to ensure access. Instead, there is an inequality of access to
critical technologies that are needed to address the pandemic,” wrote
nearly 400 advocacy groups representing patients from dozens of countries
in a letter to the World Trade Organization.

“Many countries, especially developing and least developed countries
struggling to contain Covid-19 have experienced and are facing acute
shortages of medical products, including access to diagnostic testing.
Furthermore, wealthy nations representing only 13% of the global population
have locked up at least half the doses of the world’s five leading
potential vaccines,” they wrote.

As an example, the groups pointed to Astra Zeneca (AZN), which pledged to
charge not-for-profit prices for its Covid-19 vaccine during the pandemic.
But contract terms indicated the drug maker could unilaterally declare that
pandemic might be over as early as July 2021, according to recent reports.
At that point, the company could raise its price.

The letter was signed by such global groups as Médecins du Monde, Health
Action International, and Oxfam. Others included the South Asia Alliance
for Poverty Eradication, the European Alliance for Responsible R&D and
Affordable Medicines, the African Alliance, and REDCA+ El Salvador, Belize,
Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama.

At issue are certain provisions of a WTO agreement known as the
Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, which went
into effect 25 years ago and governs patent rights. However, that landmark
agreement was amended in 2001 in order to give countries the flexibility to
take steps to protect public health, a goal that increasingly includes
greater access to medicines.

The amendment allows countries to issue so-called compulsory licenses,
which makes it possible to sidestep patents so that lower-cost generics can
be manufactured. But this approach would have to occur on a
country-by-country and product-by-product basis, which can take months or
longer at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has already spread rapidly.

Whether the WTO council will adopt the proposal is unclear, since
opposition is expected from wealthy nations, some of which are also home to
the same large drug makers that have signed exclusive production and supply
deals for Covid-19 vaccines. Given that waiving some provisions would
likely allow numerous countries to sidestep patents, the pharmaceutical
industry is likely to lobby against it.

The pharmaceutical industry has also frustrated many of the same poorer
countries and advocacy groups by opposing an effort launched a few months
ago by the World Health Organization. Known as the Covid-19 Technology
Access Pool, or C-TAP, the entity was formed last spring to collect patent
rights, regulatory test data, and other information that could be shared
for developing medical products.

Dozens of countries signed on to the initiative representing a mix of small
and large economies or populations, and the European Parliament also backed
the idea. But the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers
& Associations opposes the effort. Last May, for instance, Pfizer chief
executive officer Albert Bourla called the pool “nonsense” and “dangerous.”

Meanwhile, there is also a push among advocacy groups to persuade
individual governments to back the proposal at the WTO. The Chilean House
of Representatives, for instance, passed a resolution asking the Chilean
government to support the effort. However, the Brazilian government has
declined to do so, prompting dozens of advocacy groups in the country to
issue an open letter criticizing the decision.

About the Author

Ed Silverman

Pharmalot Columnist, Senior Writer

Ed covers the pharmaceutical industry.

 ed.silverman at statnews.com

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

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