European duplicity undermines anti-pandemic efforts
– Despite facing the worst global pandemic of the last century, rich countries in the World Trade Organization (WTO) have blocked efforts to allow more affordable access to the means to fight the pandemic.
Everyone knows that universal access to screening, treatment and prevention – including diagnostic tests, therapeutic drugs, personal protective equipment and vaccines – is crucial.
In October 2020, South Africa and India asked the WTO to temporarily suspend relevant provisions of its Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRAVEL). In May 2021, the proposal had 62 co-sponsors and the support of over two-thirds of WTO member states.
Despite overwhelming support from low- and middle-income countries, Western governments, big pharmaceutical companies and other industry officials dismiss this waiver request as not only unnecessary, but also undermining future technological innovation.
It is also fought by Brazil and other wealthy countries, such as the United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, and Japan. However, the Biden administration now supports a temporary exemption for vaccines, but says nothing about other urgently needed items.
Deceptively, European leaders insist that the request for a temporary exemption is not necessary, but that intellectual property rights (IPRs) are essential for innovation. “IPR regimes have, the best, second-order effects on innovation rates ”. In fact, “When patent rights have been too broad or too strong, they have in fact discouraged innovation”.
They mistakenly claim that access can be obtained through existing provisions on voluntary licensing (VL), technology transfer, COVAX wholesale purchases and existing TRIPS flexibilities, mostly compulsory license (CL). But these so-called solutions are known to be grossly inadequate.
COVAX is in trouble because of insufficient funding, shortage of supplies and insufficient donations. As a result, many poor countries did not even submit an application. As IPRs have been strengthened at the international level since 1995, TNCs find that the transfer of technology The agreements less profitable.
Large pharmaceutical company law
Strict international application of patent protection is recent. Then Pfizer Chairman Edmund Pratt with success put intellectual property on the Uruguay Round agenda of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which established the WTO and TRIPS in 1995.
Fearful that stronger intellectual property rights will strengthen corporate power and reduce affordable access to life-saving medicines, many developing countries have resisted TRIPS. But rich countries pushed through TRIPS, using carrots and sticks to divide developing countries.
TRIPS includes CL, first introduced in 1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. This allows a government to allow a third party to make or use a patented product or process without the consent of the patentee. But it can only be domestic use, subject to other conditions, for example, paying “to the right holder … adequate remuneration”.
Despite great efforts, governments of rich countries did not increase members’ obligations on TRIPS at the 1997 WTO Ministerial Conference in Singapore. Nonetheless, US President Clinton tried again at the Seattle Ministerial Conference in 1999, trigger an African walkout.
After September 11, some concessions were made before the Doha Ministerial Conference in 2001, including a new ‘Development cycle‘WTO talks. Two decades later, no conclusion is in sight as rich countries see little chance of getting what they want.
With the HIV / AIDS crisis, the campaign against TRIPS was stimulated by the leadership of President Mandela. the Doha Ministerial Declaration included “public health exceptions” to TRIPS. Now it is not necessary to negotiate VLs first during health emergencies. In addition, countries without manufacturing capacity can use LCs to import cheaper versions.
By insisting that the existing flexibilities of TRIPS are sufficient, EU leaders deny any real problems in practice. Ignoring decades of experience, they used to insist that VL arrangements are sufficient to increase production and share expertise.
In reality, LVs are often surrounded by secrecy, patent holders choosing beneficiaries and even distributors. So, AstraZeneca VL at the Serum Institute of India limits what it can produce and prevents it from meeting Indian and other needs.
They concede that when “voluntary cooperation fails, compulsory licenses… are a legitimate tool in the context of a pandemic”. But LCs only concern patents, not new vaccines that have not been patented, and Deny other IP barriers.
THIS arguments protect Big Pharma, but effectively reject the World Health Organization COVID-19 technology access pool (C-TAP). C-TAP aims to enable equitable access to technologies for approved COVID-19 vaccines and therapies. But industry and government officials reject technology sharing as useless, and worse, dangerous for future innovation.
For a long time, Big Pharma and their governments, including the THIS, hurry developing countries not to use the same LCs they now present as the solution. the US Trade Representative has regularly threatened sanctions against countries using LCs for drugs, recognizing only the right of others to use them this year.
LCs are very difficult to use, especially by countries with limited negotiating capacities or relevant manufacturing capabilities. The existing arrangements require complicated country-by-country, company-by-company and patent-to-patent negotiations, which also raises enormous coordination problems.
The CL layout may be sufficient for some, but certainly not for all equipment, tests and drugs. Many products need several CLs, which implies “a heartbreaking number of CLs must be coordinated and granted in multiple countries”.
In addition, CL does not require the sharing of trade secrets, confidential information, industrial designs and other relevant knowledge necessary for viable production. These can be critical, for example, for mRNA vaccines using new technologies.
Countries unable to produce themselves must find others willing to issue LCs to produce inexpensive generics for export. Even more obstacles are contained in the small print of TRIPS and the 2001 ‘flexibilities‘.
In fact, sharing such confidential information not only stimulates competition, but also improves innovation. So, Shantha Biotechnics in India, developed a low-cost hepatitis B vaccine, the basis of UNICEF’s global immunization campaign.
Contrary to claims by industry and policymakers that limiting patents would kill pharmaceutical innovation, “a plethora of new drugs and improved treatments for HIV” monitoring “The agreement on the public health exception to TRIPS”. These new and improved treatments effectively ended this deadly pandemic.
After inventing the polio vaccine, Jonas Salk was asked, “Who owns this patent? “. He famous answered, “Well, people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?