Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director general of WTO (AP Photo/Keystone/Alessandro Della Bella)

Opin­ion: Waiv­ing Covid-19 vac­cine IP could save lives, but where is the man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­i­ty?

Droves of House De­moc­rats in Wash­ing­ton and mem­bers of the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment have now glommed on­to a ma­jor push by In­dia and South Africa at the WTO to abol­ish all IP around Covid-19 vac­cines.

At first blush, waiv­ing this IP sounds like an easy win: More Covid-19 vac­cines made lo­cal­ly for more peo­ple means more lives saved. Sim­ple enough, es­pe­cial­ly as low-in­come coun­tries have re­ceived just a tiny frac­tion of the world’s vac­cine al­lot­ment so far.

But when you be­gin to con­sid­er how this is sup­posed to play out in the re­al world, how the tech trans­fer will take time and en­er­gy and en­gage­ment from the very com­pa­nies that would lose their IP, how the le­gal chal­lenges and lo­gis­tics will com­pli­cate every­thing fur­ther, and how the man­u­fac­tur­ing site num­bers don’t re­al­ly make sense, it’s easy to won­der why there’s such a big push for this.

Take, for in­stance, Mod­er­na. Back in Oc­to­ber 2020, Mod­er­na an­nounced that it would not en­force its Covid-19 re­lat­ed patents against those mak­ing vac­cines in­tend­ed to com­bat the pan­dem­ic, even say­ing it would li­cense its IP.

Tahir Amin

Sounds great, but no one has come call­ing.

Some have not­ed that Mod­er­na doesn’t own every patent used in its vac­cine. Tahir Amin, an IP lawyer at the fore­front of push­ing for the waiv­er, al­so has ex­plained at length how man­u­fac­tur­ers need more than just the patents, say­ing oth­er vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ers could scale up in about 6 to 8 months.

But where? What oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers? Even Pfiz­er and Mod­era took longer than 6 to 8 months to re­al­ly ramp up.

The pub­li­ca­tion The In­ter­cept pro­posed to an­swer that ques­tion re­cent­ly in an ar­ti­cle ti­tled, “Fac­to­ry Own­ers Around the World Stand Ready to Man­u­fac­ture Covid-19 Vac­cines.” But the on­ly ex­am­ple pro­vid­ed is On­tario-based Bi­ol­yse Phar­ma, which said it can make 20 mil­lion vac­cines per year, and an­oth­er fill-fin­ish fa­cil­i­ty in Bangladesh that says it has ca­pac­i­ty.

So we’re go­ing to dis­rupt Pfiz­er and Mod­er­na, which to­geth­er are pro­duc­ing al­most 10 bil­lion dos­es of Covid-19 vac­cines over the next two years in fa­cil­i­ties that have been cleared by the top reg­u­la­tors in the world, so Bi­ol­yse can make 20 mil­lion dos­es in a year?

Even if there are hun­dreds of oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ing sites like Bi­ol­yse (which, by the way, was shut down by Health Cana­da in 2014) around the world, who’s go­ing to man­date the tech trans­fer, and who’s go­ing to en­sure the sites are built and per­form­ing prop­er­ly?

The US FDA isn’t cur­rent­ly con­duct­ing on­site for­eign in­spec­tions, and many low-in­come coun­tries don’t even have drug reg­u­la­tors. Cut­ting cor­ners on vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ing can lead to se­ri­ous health is­sues, as we’ve seen with con­trac­tor Emer­gent’s site in Bal­ti­more, which is es­pe­cial­ly im­por­tant as these vac­cines are go­ing to healthy peo­ple.

Pres­i­dent Biden said Tues­day af­ter­noon that by Ju­ly 4, the US will do­nate 10% of its Covid-19 vac­cine stock­pile to the rest of the world. And ear­li­er this week, Mod­er­na pledged 500 mil­lion dos­es for low-in­come coun­tries. Biden’s chief med­ical ad­vis­er Tony Fau­ci told the Fi­nan­cial Times this week that while he’s ag­nos­tic on the waiv­er, he warned it could back­fire in­to a long le­gal bat­tle.

Right now, the cam­paign­ing for the IP waiv­er in the US seems to be a lot more about bash­ing Big Phar­ma than try­ing to ac­tu­al­ly in­crease vac­cine dos­es for the need­i­est. A long le­gal bat­tle with com­pa­nies like Pfiz­er and Mod­er­na isn’t go­ing to help bring the world more Covid-19 vac­cine dos­es.

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

How Pur­due's $272M ad­dic­tion pay­out fund­ed a new home for its dis­card­ed non-opi­oid re­search

Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

The drug pric­ing pres­i­dent: Biden warns of ve­to for any IRA re­peal at­tempts

President Joe Biden made clear in his “finish the job” State of the Union address last night that one of those jobs to be finished is insulin prices.

Biden’s push again to tackle insulin prices, after Republicans rebuffed the idea last summer and just after Biden won Medicare drug price negotiations/caps via the Inflation Reduction Act, shows how heavily he’s leaning into this work.

Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb head of research and early development

Up­dat­ed: R&D tur­bu­lence at Bris­tol My­ers now in­cludes the end of a $650M al­liance and the de­par­ture of a top re­search cham­pi­on

This morning biotech Dragonfly put out word that Bristol Myers Squibb has handed back all rights to its IL-12 clinical-stage drug after spending $650 million to advance it into the clinic.

The news arrives amid a turbulent R&D stage for the pharma giant, which late last week highlighted Rupert Vessey’s decision to depart this summer as head of early-stage R&D following a crucial three-year stretch after he jumped to Bristol Myers in the big Celgene buyout. During that time he struck a series of deals for Bristol Myers, and also shepherded a number of Celgene programs down the pipeline, playing a major role for a lineup of biotechs which depended on him to champion their drugs.

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FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

FDA com­mis­sion­er floats ideas on how to bet­ter han­dle the pan­dem­ic

FDA Commissioner Rob Califf joined the heads of the CDC and NIH in the hot seat today before a key House subcommittee, explaining that there needs to be a much faster, more coordinated way to oversee vaccine safety, and that foreign biopharma inspections, halted for years due to the pandemic, are slowly ramping up again.

Califf, who stressed to the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health that the CDC also needs better data, made clear that the FDA’s ability to monitor the safety of vaccines “would also benefit greatly by a coordinated federal public health data reporting authority.”

Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

Drag­on­fly chief: Bris­tol My­ers shouldn’t blame IL-12’s clin­i­cal per­for­mance for de­ci­sion to scrap the deal — eco­nom­ics played a key role

Bristol Myers Squibb says the IL-12 drug they were developing out of Dragonfly Therapeutics was scrubbed from the pipeline for a simple reason: It didn’t measure up on clinical performance.

But Bill Haney, the CEO of Dragonfly, is taking issue with that.

The early-stage drug, still in Phase I development, has passed muster with Bristol Myers’ general clinical expectations, advancing successfully while still in Phase I, he says.

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Utpal Koppikar, new Verily CFO

Ex­clu­sive: Ver­i­ly wel­comes Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics vet­er­an as new CFO

Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences outfit, has plucked a new CFO from the ranks of Atara Biotherapeutics, the company announced on Wednesday.

Utpal Koppikar joins Verily after a nearly five-year stint as CFO and senior VP at Atara, though his résumé also boasts roles at Gilead and Amgen.

The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

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Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

Dex­com's spokescelebri­ty Nick Jonas re­turns to Su­per Bowl in new glu­cose mon­i­tor com­mer­cial

Dexcom is going back to the Super Bowl with its pop singer and patient spokesperson Nick Jonas. Jonas takes center stage as the lone figure in the 30-second commercial showcasing Dexcom’s next-generation G7 continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.

Jonas’ sleight-of-hand tricks populate the commercial — he pinches his empty fingers together and pops them open to reveal the small CGM — even as he ends the ad, saying, “It’s not magic. It just feels that way.” Jonas then disappears in a puff of smoke.

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Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

New Te­va CEO Richard Fran­cis repri­or­i­tizes to 'get back to growth'

Six weeks into his new role at the helm of Teva Pharmaceutical, Richard Francis said it’s time to “get back to growth,” starting with a good look at the company’s priorities.

The chief executive has kicked off a strategic review, he announced during Teva’s quarterly call, which will continue over the next several months and produce results sometime in the middle of 2023. That means some pipeline cuts may be in store, he told Endpoints News, while declining to offer much more detail.

Sanofi is renewing its #VaccinesForDreams campaign with more stories, such as Juan's in Argentina (Sanofi)

Sanofi re­news so­cial cam­paign to re­mind that vac­cines let peo­ple ‘Dream Big’

Sanofi is highlighting people’s dreams — both big and small — to make the point that vaccines make them possible.

The renewed “Dream Big” global social media campaign’s newest dreamer is Juan, a teacher in the Misiones rainforest in Argentina whose story is told through videos on Instagram and Sanofi’s website with the hashtag #VaccinesForDreams.

The campaign ties to Sanofi’s broader umbrella initiative “Vaccine Stories” to promote the value of vaccines and drive awareness of the need for improved vaccination coverage.

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