Removing patent protection from Covid-19 treatments is an “incredibly stupid” idea, the head of a major pharmaceutical lobby said Wednesday, warning the move would jeopardize industry innovation.
Thomas Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), said the industry was still working on more effective Covid vaccines and treatments.
But Cueni said manufacturers wouldn’t risk investing in potential products if their intellectual property (IP) rights could be removed.
Cueni told reporters it would be “seriously dangerous” to shift from the voluntary sharing of knowledge seen during the pandemic to a “coercive” situation.
He added that when knowledge and technology are shared, generic manufacturers still depend on the close support of patent holders.
At the World Health Organization, plans are being made for what could be a legally binding treaty on future pandemic preparedness.
Meanwhile, World Trade Organization members are discussing expanding a temporary intellectual property waiver for the production of Covid vaccines, agreed in June 2022, to include tests and treatments.
“That debate should have simply been closed,” Cueni said.
He said more than 800 potential treatments for Covid-19 have been studied and that of the approved treatments, about two-thirds were pre-existing drugs that companies had tested to see if they worked against Covid.
If the patent on the Covid part of any medicine is removed, there is “no way … of protecting the original part,” he said.
“I have heard many companies say that we would never have considered risking our core business and seeing if it works” if they were in danger of losing the protection that encouraged them to invest in risky research.
Therefore, an intellectual property waiver “potentially undermining what has worked so well in this pandemic is fundamentally incredibly stupid,” Cueni said.
He also said the proposals to waive test patents were “ludicrous” as there was no generic market for diagnostics.
Vaccination fairness vote
Cueni said IFPMA members were concerned with ensuring that what has worked well in the response to COVID-19 is not lost or compromised for future pandemic preparedness.
He said producers needed quick, unhindered access to respond to emerging pathogens.
But he acknowledged that drug companies needed to learn from “what hasn’t worked well: namely a fair rollout” of vaccines.
“We have to make sure dose sharing is something we build from day one,” he said.
Cueni said more geographic diversity is needed in manufacturing, with most vaccines produced only in the United States, Europe, China and India.
“Even if it works, it will still need to open borders and remove trade barriers,” he said, noting that supply chain issues could slow production.
And even then, “we need to work on country readiness because once we had not just a sufficient supply of vaccines, but an excess supply of vaccines, we still haven’t seen the shots get into people’s arms.”
With the pandemic entering its fourth year, Cueni said major manufacturers are busy working on better treatments and treatments.
He hoped that future vaccines would offer longer-lasting protection.
“It would be nice if one shot a year was enough,” he said.
Regarding the profits made by the pharmaceutical industry during the pandemic, Cueni said, “When you look at what Covid-19 has cost the global economy, the cost of treatments or vaccines was only a small fraction of that.” .