[Ip-health] Wall Street Journal (Editorial Board): Watch Out for a Vaccine Patent Heist

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Mon Mar 29 03:49:03 PDT 2021


Watch Out for a Vaccine Patent Heist

The left wants Biden to force drug companies to give away their IP.

By The Editorial Board
March 28, 2021 3:29 pm ET

Pharmaceutical companies have come to the world’s rescue with Covid-19
vaccines, but these days no good deed by business goes unpunished. The
Biden Administration is now under pressure to support a political campaign
to break vaccine patents.

India and South Africa last fall petitioned the World Trade Organization to
suspend intellectual property protections on Covid vaccines and treatments,
which they say is necessary to expand global access. Fifty-five other
countries plus an army of nonprofiits and labor unions have joined the
attempted heist.

“Multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical companies continue to prioritize
profits by protecting their monopolies,” Bernie Sanders says. Adds
Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro : “We need to make the public policy choices
both in the U.S. and at the WTO that puts patients first.”

Patent-breakers are presenting a false choice between protecting
intellectual property and public health. Breaking patents won’t accelerate
vaccine production or distribution to poor countries. Pharmaceutical
companies are ramping up manufacturing as fast as they can, including in
low-income countries.

Merck is reconfiguring factories to produce Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine,
while Novartis and Sanofi are making Pfizer -BioNTech’s mRNA shots. Novavax
has tapped Baxter BioPharma Solutions and Endo International. The Serum
Institute of India plans to make a billion doses of Novavax this year. J&J
has enlisted Aspen Pharmacare in South Africa and Biological E in India.

In short, vaccine developers are already sharing their IP. Covid mRNA and
vector-vaccines are complicated biological products that require expertise
to manufacture. Even if the WTO suspended patent protections, India and
South Africa still couldn’t make vaccines without cooperation from the

WTO rules already allow low-income countries to force drug makers to
license patents for medications during “national emergencies” or “other
circumstances of extreme urgency” such as HIV or tuberculosis epidemics.
But the WTO can’t make drug makers share their expertise. So what’s the
point of the WTO campaign?

Answer: To bully pharmaceutical companies and Western governments to donate
more vaccines. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom
Ghebreyesus, who supports the WTO campaign, last week called the gap
between vaccines distributed in rich and poor countries “grotesque.”

What’s really grotesque is the left’s failure to understand that private
innovation and investment benefit everyone. Covid vaccines are now
available because of decades of research and tens of billions in investment
by U.S. and European companies into vaccines for other infectious diseases,
which kill more people in poor countries than Covid does. The AIDS/HIV
death rate in South Africa is nearly three times higher than for Covid.

There would be more deaths if not for medicines developed in the U.S. and
Europe. In 2012 J&J introduced the first novel treatment for multi-drug
resistant TB in nearly half a century. About 2.5 times more people died of
tuberculosis in India in 2019 than have from Covid.

Profits enabled by patents provide the incentive to innovate. J&J and
AstraZeneca, both diversified giants, have agreed not to profit from Covid
vaccines. But Novavax and Moderna have been investing in vaccine research
for years—more than 30 in Novavax’s case—and their Covid shots are their
first success. Companies won’t continue to invest if they aren’t allowed to
make a profit.

As for inequitable distribution, U.S. and European governments have donated
billions of dollars to a WHO-backed initiative to distribute vaccines to
poor countries. AstraZeneca has promised to allocate nearly two-thirds of
its vaccines to the developing world. J&J has pledged up to 500 million
doses, and Novavax 1.1 billion.

Low-income countries may have to wait a little longer for vaccines, but the
European Union and the U.S. account for 10% of the world’s population and
40% of Covid deaths. That’s in part because their populations are much
older, and Covid mostly kills the elderly. The faster vaccines are
distributed in Europe and U.S., the sooner their government lockdowns—which
have caused economic damage and increased poverty in low-income
countries—will ease.

The fabulous vaccine success should be a moment to celebrate U.S. property
rights and innovation. Instead, the American and global left see an opening
for government to confiscate and redistribute. If the Biden White House
lets it happen, the wait for vaccines and treatments will be longer during
the rest of this pandemic and the next one.

Appeared in the March 29, 2021, print edition.

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

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