The long-running battle over patents for the Covid-19 vaccine has begun, and overflowing hospital wards in India and Brazil have highlighted the desperate need to create more shots to vaccinate the world.
Some hope that as the World Trade Organization waives long-term agreements to protect intellectual property, known as trade-related aspects or trips related to intellectual property rights, more manufacturers can develop and increase the supply of these vaccines.
Who wants to suspend intellectual property rights in vaccines?
India and South Africa are on the verge of waiving trips, with many other low-income countries signing up, arguing that the only way to ensure “fair, equitable and affordable access” to Covid-19 products, including vaccines, is through drugs.
The proposal comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) sought to encourage pooling of intellectual property – the Kovid-19 technology access pool – which received limited interest from IP-entitled countries and organizations last year.
James Love, director of the nonprofit Knowledge Ecology International, said the industry could do more to increase production. “We are definitely moving slower than we need to. Companies are collecting both knowledge and intellectual property that can protect us not only from the current virus, but also from the variant, ”he said.
Some manufacturers have said that according to Ellen T’hon, director of Medicines Law and Policy, they could have developed more vaccines if they had the intellectual property.
He said Western governments that funded the development of vaccines should have ensured their distribution would be more equitable. Currently, 1.1 billion Covid-19 vaccines have been given worldwide, but less than 160 million doses have been given in Africa.
“Governments have probably given a lot of these without promising to share the IP and have paid this huge amount,” he said.
Who is against the waiver and why?
Wealthy countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and the EU, have so far opposed the waiver, although U.S. trade representatives suggested last month that they consider changes to trade rules to address the problem.
Biden has warned administration officials and the pharmaceutical industry, including some vaccine manufacturers, that such changes could lead to the transfer of innovative technologies such as the Messenger RNA platform. China and Russia. They are hopeful of using new vaccines and even platforms for treatment in the future.
But the main argument of drug manufacturers is to reduce intellectual property Not the solution.
Vaccine makers have already removed all stops to deliver billions of doses at an unprecedented pace, with signatures of unusual partnerships with competitors to expand production. Modarna put her patents online last summer but they are not effective alone.
Thomas Quinney, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, said vaccines were more complex than most drugs so there was never a mandatory license to give shots. He said the patent was “just icing on the cake”.
“You can get the recipe from Mary Berry for the most beautiful cake you can imagine. But good luck if you try to copy that cake, ”he said.
If new suppliers have access to IP, can they expand the product?
Sir Robin Jacob, chairman of intellectual property law at University College London, said there was no evidence that other companies were suddenly able to develop vaccines when patented intellectual property was published.
Vaccines often have fewer patents than drugs – but they are more strategic to produce, he said, so it is the availability of skills that puts production behind. Johnson and Johnson said it tested 100 potential partners but decided that only 10 were able to make its shots.
“There is almost no one you can license. They can’t do it – you have a huge plant, huge skills, whether you need a patent or not, it doesn’t matter, ”Jacob said.
Vaccine makers could send experts to new plants to handle the technology innovation process, but it could damage existing production, he warned. “If they stop producing this vaccine now to teach someone in Bangladesh to make a factory for three to four years, they will not be able to make the vaccine now,” he said.
Is there enough raw material?
Attempts have been made to produce unprecedented quantities of the Covid-19 vaccine, with a limited supply of equipment such as lipid nanoparticles and bioreactor bags. The new factories will face the same hurdle with export control which has slowed down the movement of some key parts.
Prashant Yadav, a supply chain expert at the Center for Global Development, said patents were less likely to help in the next six months due to tight supply, but they could help set up a manufacturing network that could come online in 12 to 18 months.
“Employees are urging the government to support this proposal using the immediate opportunity – a time-sensitive combustion platform – for what could be helpful in the medium to long term.” He added that among the challenges of creating vaccines is that a waiver on the distribution of an antiviral pill for COCD-19 could raise greater equity, as Mark is developing.
What else can help in global access to vaccines?
Western countries have given priority to vaccinating their own populations rather than the most risky protections in the world. There are enough vaccines for every American in the United States, so leaning towards the pressure to give spray shots, starting with this Oxford / AstraZeneca stockpile The vaccine, which is not approved in the United States. Other countries can do the same with surplus shots.
And a short-term support should simplify export controls, so vaccine manufacturers are not limited to where they send their shots or the ingredients to make them.
The World Health Organization is trying to encourage mRNA vaccinated companies to share their patents and technological knowledge with regional centers in poor countries.
However, none of these proposals will dramatically increase vaccine availability this year.
Additional report by Donato Paolo Mancini in Rome