Progress On COVID-19 Technology Pool Inches Along As Sister Initiative To Pool Vaccine Procurement Accelerates
Mariangela Simao speaks at a UNGA side event on the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool

While the COVAX Facility, a global initiative to pool procurement of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, has been gaining momentum, another global initiative to pool intellectual property rights for tools to combat the pandemic has been moving at a much slower pace.

Only three more countries have signed on to support the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (CTAP), an initiative to pool COVID-19-related intellectual property IP, including patent rights, since the pool was first launched in 29 May. That makes 40 countries now supporting the initiative, according to WHO Access to Medicines, Biologics, and Vaccines Director Mariangela Simão, speaking at a UNGA side event hosted by Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado Quesada on Friday.

The high-level event also included WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN AIDS executive director Winnie Byanyima. Byanyima expressed concern about the lack of support the IP pool had received so far from countries as well as industry.

“A vaccine is our greatest hope of rising up from this crisis. But the only place where a COVID-19 vaccine is a global public good is in rhetoric, not reality,” Byanyima said. “We congratulate the hard work of scientists, and yes, of pharma corporations too. And yet despite that – all the knkowledge and technology to make them remains a secret. It is the private property of companies. They are deciding how many vaccines get made. They are deciding what price is charged. They are deciding who gets them.

“The implications are clear. Oxfam’s research shows that rich countries representing 13% of the world’s population have secured half the vaccine supplies belonging to the major candidates…Do I need to remind us of the 10 million lives needlessly lost to HIV and AIDS? That’s what happened the last time we relied on the good will of pharmaceutical corporations in a crisis….

“Together we believe that there must be safe and effective vaccines for everyone. Vaccines that are fairly and speedily distributed across the world – free of charge – according to need and not ability to pay. We need a people’s vaccine not a profit vaccine. To do this all pharma corporations must openly share their know-how and technology for producing their vaccines free of patent and monopoly. This know-how and technology can then be shared with as many producers as possible. Once we have more producers, we have more doses, and there will be no need for this self-defeating vaccine bidding war in which the most at-risk populations will always loose.

“To achieve this, we must push harder on CTAP. This is the most important multilateral solution we have on the table to unlock supply. The World Health Organization have shown us how access pools work, for example with the Medicines Patent Pool. We welcome COVAX, but we need its spirit of solidarity to extend to sharing technology and intellectual property for the global public good.

Public Subsidies in Vaccine R&D Strengthen Argument for IP Sharing

The case for IP sharing is particularly strong in the case of COVID-19 vaccines, where unprecedented amounts of public and government funds have been poured into  R&D and pre-purchaes agreements, argued  Jamie Love, head of the medicines access advocacy group, Knowledge Ecology International, at the event. He described the investements as “massive, effectively derisking the development of products.”

But public funders have not done enough to push for public ownership of IP rights to the innovations that they helped finance, he said.

“Talk about solidarity has not yet been given concrete action …  The funders of R&D, including primarily governments, but also foundations like the Gates Foundation, have not used their leverage to open source the know-how or rights in patents or data. This reinforces shortages and higher prices, and works against building more distributed capacity for manufacturing, not only today, for years to come and future pandemics.”

While the COVAX pool, to which 64 high-income countries as well as pharma have endorsed, strengthens global systems for vaccine procurement, an IP pool would address potential bottlenecks even more fundamentally:  “CTAP is about access to know-how, cell lines and rights inventions and data We have and will face shortages of supply, and inequality of access to products. But there is no legitimate basis for not sharing knowledge, and in particular, manufacturing know-how, access to cell lines and rights in inventions and data.”

In addition, Love added, “we also need more transparency of R&D costs and subsidies, prices, licenses and advance purchase agreements, and trial outcomes.”

CTAP IP Pool Has Not Received Pharma Support; Simão Says Medicines Patent Pool Could Be Way Forward

Unlike the COVAX pooled vaccine facility, which has received broad industry support, CTAP has been dismissed by the pharmaceutical industry, which holds most of the rights to the vaccine technologies, data, and research that the CTAP IP pool would aim to distribute freely. Director-General of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations Thomas Cueni has previously said that he did not understand the added benefit of the initiative, echoing comments from heads of large pharma companies.

Still, progress is inching along on the initiative, which was originally proposed by Costa Rica in March. And getting private industry on board is key, according to Simão. She noted that the C-TAP Pool would be built on existing expertise and strategies developed by the Medicines Patent Pool, an initiative founded by UNITAID that has experience negotiating voluntary agreements with industry for the pooling and distribution of generic licenses for the production of medicines for HIV/AIDS as well as other infectious diseases, such as Hepatitis C.

“I think we need our [potential] partners to understand that there is a mutual advantage in sharing prices, in sharing data and know-how. In ways, [it helps] accelerate product development and widespread manufacturing,” said Simão. “We are about to ask for a ‘light’ consultation, a strategy for private sector engagement, because without the private sector as partners we won’t go anywhere.”

-Updated 27.9.2020




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