‘Transactional’ Pathogen Sharing Undermines Global Health Security

The existing international framework for sharing pathogens is ‘transactional’ and undermines global health security, according to research commissioned by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA).

Produced by legal consultancy Covington, the research was developed partly from interviews with 82 public health experts.

There were drawn from the pharmaceutical companies (44% of respondents), the World Health Organization (17%), public health institutions including the US Center for Disease Control, (23%), biobanks (7%), academia (1%), NGOs (7%), and other stakeholders (1%).

“The research “points to an increased ‘politicization’ of access to samples of pathogens, as well as access to sequence information on pathogens,” according to a statement released by the IFPMA on Tuesday.

“This is due to countries’ adoption of national access and benefit-sharing (ABS) rules under the Nagoya Protocol  and potentially, the future draft Pandemic Accord,” 

The Nagoya Protocol “employs a transactional model”, requiring almost 100 countries to get a permit “each time a researcher wishes to access that nation’s biodiversity for R&D”, according to the IFPMA. 

“In return for the permit, benefit-sharing in the form of a payment on the result from R&D is usually required.”

While this was meant to attach value to and protect biodiversity,  “there is a broad consensus among stakeholders interviewed by Covington that the transactional model of the Nagoya Protocol applied to pathogens is not logical, and undermines global health security”. 

A possible solution, it adds, would be to unlink “access” to pathogens from “benefits” derived from such access. This would “ensure rapid and free sharing of pathogen samples and sequence data, while addressing equity concerns separately”, it adds. 

“Coming on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and as negotiations commence on the so-called pandemic accord led by the WHO, our report demonstrates the need to secure free, rapid and unhindered access for scientists to pathogen samples and sequence data,” said Bart Van Vooren, who led the Covington team. 

‘Held hostage to deals’

“Currently, pathogens are being held hostage to deals on benefit-sharing through the Nagoya Protocol.  This represents a grave risk for humanity when the next pandemic hits,” he added.

The report provides examples of how ABS laws have blocked or delayed researchers’ access to pathogen samples of seasonal influenza, SARS-CoV-2, Zika, mpox, Japanese Encephalitis, Foot and Mouth Disease, Ebola, and African Swine Fever. 

It also shows that delays or refusals for pathogen-sharing have led to “sub-optimal vaccine composition, including lack of regional representativeness”; diagnostics that were not tailored or tested against original or new variants of pathogens and “skewed and non-representative epidemiology in genomic surveillance”.  

Thomas Cueni, Director General of IFPMA, said: “Investments in global health security, especially improved and expanded pathogen and disease surveillance, will not achieve the ultimate goal of protecting people and saving lives, if immediate and unfettered access to pathogens and their genetic information is constrained.”

Image Credits: Paul Owere/Twitter .

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