Industry groups call to block WTO IP waiver expansion to Covid-19 therapeutics
The WTO’s TRIPS Council in mid-October is expected to debate whether to extend the IP waiver for Covid-19 vaccines to therapeutics and diagnostics too.
While the Biden administration backed the original vaccine waiver, which critics note has not done much to expand access to vaccines as demand has dried up, US trade officials haven’t offered any perspective yet on whether to expand the waiver to Covid treatments.
The US Chamber of Commerce, as well as industry groups BIO and EFPIA, this week expressed “strong opposition” to any expansion of the WTO TRIPS waiver to therapeutics or diagnostics, arguing that waived IP protections damage the nation’s ability to innovate and compete.
Illinois-based IP attorney Kevin O’Connor at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg told Endpoints News in a phone interview that he doesn’t think the vaccine waiver has done much so far.
“I don’t think it was the right solution for a demand problem,” O’Connor said. And an extension to therapeutics “would double down” on the same concept, except small molecule manufacturing is more straightforward than vaccine manufacturing. There’s also the question of whether there is a need for an extension given the voluntary licensing already in place.
BIO also noted that the expansion of a TRIPS waiver to therapeutics can create problems for therapeutics used for other indications too as these other indications “may be their only path to financial viability and sustained investment to fund future R&D initiatives.”
The industry group also noted the lack of a “supply and demand challenge globally that justifies the extension of an IP waiver” considering the fact that manufacturers are supplying therapeutics at a rate that outpaces demand.
The US Chamber of Commerce also noted that in the case of Covid-19 vaccine IP, “the waiver’s realization came long after its ostensible purpose was mooted by a large and growing surplus of COVID-19 vaccine supplies.”
But Public Citizen’s Peter Maybarduk told Endpoints these are “specious arguments and scare tactics,” adding, “Pharma is worried and that is a good thing for people.”
WTO members and developing countries pledged support for the waiver extension last summer, according to a read out of a meeting. Some even called for this extension to be discussed “with a sense of urgency given the fact that many least developed countries (LDCs) lack access to life-saving drugs and testing therapeutics.”
But other member countries “cautioned that more time was needed to conduct domestic consultations on a possible extension of the waiver to therapeutics and diagnostics” while:
Some members also flagged the importance of an evidence-based negotiation as there was no evidence that intellectual property did indeed constitute a barrier to accessing COVID-19 vaccines. Some also reiterated the need for members to fully make use of all the flexibilities that already exist in the TRIPS Agreement (including compulsory licensing) before requesting new flexibilities.