The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 as pandemic as the whole world is virtually under the threat of being infected. As COVID-19 is causing chaos around the globe, the world’s researchers and pharmaceutical companies are trying to find a cure, but why? Is the agenda behind being the first one to make the vaccine is to save lives or to get the patent and enjoy the rights? COVID-19 has introduced a whole new global arms race — the race to own patent rights to a COVID-19 vaccine.
A patent is an exchange between the inventor and the society, where inventor discloses the invention to the public but in return gets exclusivity to choose who, when, where and how it should be used or sold. Research over drug costs a lot of money, but the same is generally recovered by the exclusivity that one gets in manufacturing, sale, and licensing. Given the current political scenario, the fear remains, what if the medicines that are generally available after being patented will now have a restriction for monetary or any other purpose.
Pharmaceutical companies have been making drugs of chronic diseases, they shield the research done on it for years so that generic ones can’t be produced and they can continue to reap the benefits out of it.
On the other hand, there is also a great emphasis on sharing innovative technology so that everyone can fight against this common enemy. Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of the World Health Organization, has called upon companies to pool diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines. Collaborations across the industry and access being given by companies by opening up their patents is unprecedented. The U.S. based company, Gilead Sciences and AbbVie gave up its global intellectual property rights for a potential treatment known as Kaletra. They say they could have earned exclusive rights over the same, but now it is for the public at large and it is for them to earn the goodwill by showing they make medicines for the people.
Instead of companies blocking each other’s way, are finding other companies to collaborate and accelerate the development process. Patenting is majorly beneficial for research industries like pharmaceutical and biologics and can be a manner to encourage collaboration. Terms can be negotiated to have different expertise together and the one making it first can claim certain additional benefits. The virus will likely garner another sort of PIP-type or any other similar program which will encourage contractual licensing of innovative IP in exchange for access to specialized expertise or important biological data.
But then one comes across the issues of trust in between countries. Gilead owns the patent in Remesdivir, an anti-viral, which was specifically made for the EBOLA but did not work then. Gilead thought it could work with coronavirus, and donated it to China to test its efficacy. However, China, on the other hand, filed a patent on ‘method of use’, while using it along with Chloroquine (anti-malarial drug) stating it is for the public good. This signalled a deeper mistrust between the two countries and can have a detrimental effect on the countries aiming to produce the vaccine together thereby leading to an eventual race in between the countries. Since the government of the country decides how the vaccines should be given across the globe. The vaccine so developed, can help in taking any sort of advantages from the other country, is the only remedy available during this biological devastation around the world.
The latest breakthrough on the COVID-19 vaccine, in from Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome, Italy has developed the world’s first vaccine against coronavirus, through antibodies generated in mice that work on human cells. Israel Institute for Biological Research, Jerusalem has successfully found an antidote and has also filed for patent. It is currently waiting for the approval of the patent after which an international manufacturer would be sought to mass-produce it. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute (India) says that if they will develop the vaccine, they will not get it patented because multiple partners would be required to develop the same for the whole world, and thus, hiding behind patents or claiming royalties will not be justified.
Scientific researches are to develop the society at large, and thus it should not intend to operate based on political environment. If the vaccines will be monopolized, it will be at the cost of human lives. It should be known that monopoly will be dangerous, as this vaccine will be a life-saving drug in almost every country across the globe. Patent pooling has been done for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and now COVID-19 requires the same. This will have a broader agenda towards reforming, manufacturing and accessibility of a lifesaving drug. Academicians and policymakers like Northeastern law professor Brook Baker say that working in collaboration is a better way to go ahead, and we should learn during this time, the new technique of doing such innovations in a group because ultimately they are for the public good. Moreover, it is helpful for the world at large to get the vaccine for Covid-19 as early as possible as then everyone will be able to change their focus to the global recession that is bound to onset more or less all the countries.
Author credit: Kritika Gandhi