Saturday, 10 Jun 2023

Pharma lobby blasts ‘stupid’ pandemic patent plans

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Stripping patent protection from COVID-19 treatments is a “mind-bogglingly stupid” idea, the head of a leading pharmaceutical lobby said Wednesday, warning that the move would put industry innovation at risk.

As COVID-19 gradually transitions from a pandemic to an endemic disease, Thomas Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), said the industry was still working on more effective vaccines and treatments.

But Cueni said manufacturers would not risk ploughing investment into potential products if their intellectual property (IP) rights could be stripped away.

At the World Health Organization, plans are being drawn up for what could be a legally binding treaty on future pandemic preparedness.

WHO members are also discussing broadening a temporary IP waiver for producing COVID vaccines, agreed in June 2022, to include tests and treatments.

Cueni said more than 800 potential COVID-19 treatments were being researched—and of approved ones on the market, around two-thirds were repurposed from pre-existing medicines that companies had tested to see if they worked against COVID.

If the patent on the COVID part a medicine is removed, there is “no way… to protect the original part”, he told reporters.

“I have heard many companies say we would never have considered risking our core business and checking if it works… if we would know we would actually risk to lose the protection which incentivised us to put a lot of money into at-risk research,” he said.

Therefore, an IP waiver “potentially undermining what worked so well in this pandemic is basically mind-bogglingly stupid”, Cueni said.

He also said a proposal to waive patents on tests was “ludicrous” as there was no generic market for diagnostics.

Cueni said pharma groups were focusing on ensuring that what worked well in the COVID-19 response is not lost or compromised for future pandemic preparedness.

He said manufacturers needed fast, unhindered access to emerging pathogens.

But he acknowledged that pharma firms needed to learn from “what didn’t work well—that is equitable roll-out” of vaccines.

“We need to make sure that dose-sharing is something we build in from day one,” he said.

© 2023 AFP

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