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Plans to challenge IP of Covid-19 products are 'dangerous', say industry leaders

by Thomas Meek
LONDON, 29 May (APM) - Challenging the intellectual property of any product that is developed for Covid-19 is "dangerous", according to Pfizer's chief executive Albert Bourla.
Bourla was one of several industry leaders to comment on the issue on Thursday at a press conference hosted by global pharma trade body IFPMA.
The issue has come to prominence this week with the launch of the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Solidarity Call to Action platform in Costa Rica, which aims to lift access barriers to vaccines, medicines and other health products against Covid-19 across the world, according to a statement from the global health body.
"The platform will pool data, knowledge and intellectual property for existing or new Covid-19 health products to deliver 'global public goods' for all people and all countries," said the WHO in a statement. "Through the open sharing of science and data, numerous companies will be able to access the information they need to produce the technologies, thereby scaling up availability worldwide, lowering costs and increasing access."
Industry leaders, led by IFPMA, have challenged the plans, however, saying they imply that IP rights that are not waived or licensed globally are potential barriers to R&D, public-private collaborations or access to Covid-19 products.
"The intellectual property system has enabled collaboration between biopharmaceutical innovators and governments, universities and other research partners to speed up progress on our most pressing unmet medical needs, including hundreds of potential Covid-19 treatments and vaccines for patients around the world," said IFPMA in a statement.

'Nonsense'

Pfizer's Bourla used stronger terms during Thursday's IFPMA press conference.
"I think I'm hearing all the people that are speaking about IP, but I have to say at this point of time, this thing is nonsense and at this point of time is also dangerous," he said.
He added that companies are risking billions of dollars on development programmes despite the chances of recouping investment not being very good.
"It's not that we have a vaccine in our pocket. Right now, we are working to make a vaccine. At this stage the people that are investing their billions - hundreds of biotechs - to find the solution, to have a discussion 'keep in mind that if you discover it we are going to take your IP', I think is dangerous."
Thomas Cueni, director general of IFPMA, expanded on his organisation's views in the same press conference, saying that industry has been able to respond at speed so far to the pandemic based on a history of strong IP.
He also pointed to existing access programmes such as the medicines patent pool, which allows for voluntary licensing of products in certain areas, including Covid-19 (APMHE 67162).
"I'm not quite sure to be honest that we do need additional platforms because we already have platforms. The industry is already doing all the right things."

IP is 'fundamental'

Other industry figures to comment on IP issues for Covid-19 products in the press conference included GlaxoSmithKline's chief executive Emma Walmsley, who said IP is "absolutely fundamental" to the industry.
"If our industry is mobilising now is because of the investments in science and research that's been made with that support."
She also said there is not an enormous amount of evidence that IP is a brarrier to access, pointing to access programmes for HIV drugs in developing nations, as well as the work of the Gavi Alliance to provide vaccinations in developing nations.

MSF response

Healthcare non-profit Médecins Sans Frontières praised the WHO's Solidarity Call to Action plans in a Friday statement, saying an effective global response to Covid-19 will depend on "no private monopoly" being allowed for any treatments, tests or vaccines for the disease.
Dr Christos Christou, MSF's international president, said: "Safe and effective vaccines, treatments and tests must be developed free from exclusive rights, produced in adequate quantities, distributed fairly and made available to all people, especially the most vulnerable, in all countries and free of charge at the point of care.
"While the WHO Solidarity Call is an important step, it will require effective implementation and enforceable measures to guarantee access to both existing and future Covid-19 technologies for everyone."
WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, previously said in a statement: "We need to unleash the full power of science, without caveats or restrictions, to deliver innovations that are scalable, usable, and benefit everyone, everywhere, at the same time."
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