Big Pharma Offers to Reserve Pandemic Products for Poorer Countries in Future – Albeit With Prerequisites

Major pharmaceutical companies have offered to reserve a “real-time allocation” of vaccines and treatments upfront for “priority populations in lower-income countries” in future pandemics – providing the G7 and G20 also help low-income countries finance and make effective use of the products.

Launching its Berlin Declaration on Tuesday, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) acknowledged that there has been an inequitable distribution of COVID-19 products, which it attributed to “inadequate financing mechanisms upfront and a lack of country readiness”.

It calls for  “strong, fully funded international procurement mechanisms”  for pandemic vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics (VTD) for lower-income countries that can forecast demand and sign advanced purchase agreements with industry early in a pandemic. 

“Each company will take measures, in partnership with governments, to help ensure that authorized pandemic vaccines and treatments are available and affordable in countries of all income levels, including via donations, not-for-profit supply, voluntary licenses or equity-based tiered pricing based on countries’ needs and capabilities, or any other innovative mechanism as during COVID-19,” according to the IFPMA.

Stronger health systems

However, a “prerequisite” for the success of more equitable access rests on improving health systems in lower-income countries to ensure that they “are better prepared to absorb and deliver vaccines and treatments”  – and the willingness of high-income countries to “provide the necessary political and financial support” to achieve this, says the IFPMA. 

The IFPMA also says that the success of its declaration depends on “a strong innovation ecosystem, grounded in intellectual property rights, and the removal of trade and regulatory barriers to export”.

“Intellectual property rights should be respected since society depends on them to stimulate innovation and the scale-up of supply,” according to the declaration, which has been named “Berlin” in recognition of Germany’s leadership role as President of the G7.

The pharmaceutical industry has lobbied vehemently against any relaxation of IP rights for COVID-19 products, putting it at loggerheads with health activists and a number of governments in low and middle-income countries.

Better protected

The IFPMA’s future pandemic preparedness plan, which it aims to sell to world leaders in upcoming meetings, is based on “innovation, manufacturing scale-up, and planning ahead for equitable access”.

“With all stakeholders collaborating and playing their part, we can make sure that the efforts, investments, learnings and losses seen during COVID-19 are not in vain, but rather help shape a future where everyone is better protected from the threat of pandemics,” said Thomas Cueni, Director General of IFPMA.

“Our proposal is just a first step along the way to what I believe has the potential to be a transformational solution for future pandemics.” 

The declaration commits pharma to three key issues:

  • working with regulators and other stakeholders to establish streamlined approaches to develop and deliver new quality, safe and effective vaccines and treatments even faster in the future;
  • supporting collaborations, a geographically diverse sustainable manufacturing footprint and mechanisms for rapidly scaling-up supply in a future pandemic; 
  • planning ahead to ensure equitable access and delivery of pandemic products, including identifying priority groups such as health workers and high-risk individuals, who “should be vaccinated first, regardless of the country they live in”.

“We will build on existing manufacturing partnerships, business-to-business agreements set up in advance, ongoing capability development and voluntary licensing and/ or early, voluntary technology transfer where this will facilitate rather than impede scale up and global supply,” says the IFPMA. 

It also appealed to governments to commit to unrestricted trade, no export bans across the vaccine-treatments-diagnostics supply chain and expedited processes for import and export during a pandemic.

 Pharma proposes to work with G7 and G20 on a joint solution for better access to vaccines and treatments around the world for future pandemics 

Jean-Christophe Tellier, IFPMA President and CEO of UCB, said “we applaud Germany’s leadership of the G7’s pandemic response and trust that our declaration is seen by world leaders as a practical proposal to build greater equitable access into future pandemic response. 

“For this potentially life-saving concept to become reality, we will need to work with G7, and later this year in Bali with G20 to flesh out how to make it work. The reward if successful will help shape a future where everyone has a chance to be better protected from the threat of pandemics from the outset, no matter where they live.”

José Manuel Barroso, Gavi chair and co-chair of COVAX, the global COVID vaccine access platform, applauded the IFPMA and industry leaders for “seizing the initiative”. 

“We saw effective innovation and manufacturing scaling up with this pandemic; but we also saw the challenges we had to overcome to get the vaccines to all those who needed them,” said Barroso.

“The industry’s commitment to reserve part of production of vaccines and treatments at real time for vulnerable populations in low-income countries provides an opportunity to work together strategically to forge a new social contract. I hope that political leaders will do their part and engage with industry on how to make this work.”

Image Credits: Glsun Mall/ Unsplash.

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