Medical tech to tackle Covid-19: ‘IP waiver will send bad signal to private sector’

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on December 10, 2020

As public health voices mount pressure for the waiver of Intellectual Property  (IP) on medical products developed to tackle Covid-19, Big Pharma has come out in a show of strength saying waivers would not ensure access and would instead send a “bad signal” to the private sector.  

“Even if patents were waived not a single more vaccine would reach to people during a pandemic,” said Thomas Cueni, Director General, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), adding that the main constrain was to do with production capacity. IP is an enabler and the world would not have got a Covid-19 vaccine so quickly without it, he said at an IFPMA media interaction.  

His response was to a query on the IP waiver sought at the World Trade Organisation by South Africa and India, among others, on drugs, vaccines and medical technologies developed to tackle Covid-19. 

As Pfizer’s vaccines get deployed and Moderna appears to follow close, healthcare advocacy groups urge them  to engage with more suppliers to ensure greater access to their new-tech m-RNA vaccines. 

Pfizer Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dr Albert Bourla said, “IP is the blood of the private sector and is what brought a solution,” he said, asserting it was not a barrier. Taking the argument further, he said, diagnostics and therapeutics to tackle Covid-19 “did not just appear”, the solutions came because of investments from Roche, Lilly, Abbott, Gilead etc. “If anything this pandemic has taught us a lesson, it confirmed the value proposition of the private sector rather than the opposite,” he said. 

Echoing similar thoughts, Johnson & Johnson’s Dr Paul Stoffels, Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer pointed out that J&J, for instance, had been investing in their technology for over a decade. 

IFPMA President  David A. Ricks took issue with the question on whether IP was a barrier to access. The answer is “no”, he said, adding “we don’t enforce IP in low and middle income countries.” 

The barrier is production capacity, he said, indicating that manufacturing capacities for monoclonal antibodies, for instance, were in “wealthy” nations. “It is a false narrative that IP is in the way,” said Ricks,  Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Eli Lilly. 

Roche Group’s CEO  Dr Severin Schwan who is also IFPMA Vice-President said that selling break-through technology on a not-for-profit basis was not sustainable in the long-term. Prices and reimbursement should reflect the value of the innovation, he said, otherwise innovators will not take the risk in future. 

Cooperate more 

Meanwhile, humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-Doctors Without Borders) cautioned that regulatory approvals would not be enough to solve the global pandemic unless corporations took urgent steps to increase cooperation with other producers and sell their vaccines at-cost. “This will mean sharing all the necessary IP, technologies, data and know-how, so that as many companies as possible can produce these lifesaving vaccines,” they said.

Pointing to public funding from governments that went to some of these companies developing Covid-technologies, MSF pointed out, “none of this money had conditions attached that would guarantee access, including requiring companies to transfer all technology to other vaccine manufacturers, be transparent about their costs, or sell their vaccines at-cost.”


Published on December 09, 2020

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