Public Citizen accuses Pfizer of building 'patent wall' for Covid treatment, setting up inequities again
Public Citizen has called out Pfizer. Again.
The consumer advocacy nonprofit issued a statement Friday claiming the Big Pharma is building a patent wall by filing or intending to file patent applications in 61 countries, as well as four regional patent offices, for nirmatrelvir, a key component in Pfizer’s Covid-19 treatment Paxlovid.
The Medicines Patent Pool and Pfizer struck an agreement to qualify generic manufacturers in 95 countries, many of which are classified as low- or lower-middle-income, to produce generic versions of Pfizer’s Covid-19 antiviral. But Public Citizen said the deal left out much of the world. Director Burcu Kilic said, in a call with Endpoints News Friday, that the agreement was largely a public relations move by the Big Pharma. The scope of the deal, while in theory provides equitable access, is actually a “chicken or the egg” scenario, he said, because many of the countries do not have ease of access to manufacture the drug.
“Pfizer did really great PR work at that time,” Kilic said. “It was on the headlines of every publication, but the reality is much different.”
“Many countries, including most of Latin America, may endure supply shortages and unaffordable prices,” Public Citizen said in the letter. “Now, health advocates will work together to take down Pfizer’s patent wall brick by brick to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to COVID treatments.”
Peter Maybarduk, the nonprofit’s director of public medicine programs, said that the world is looking at a repeat of the vaccine inequity that has grabbed a hold of the world following the rush to get Covid-19 vaccines, but with therapeutics instead.
“To not have any commitment from Pfizer so far is concerning,” he said. “We could easily wind up in a scenario where 2/3 of the population is left behind. It won’t be (drug) hoarding, but it will be deeply inequitable.”
Pfizer has already filed applications in a number of countries, including Mongolia, New Zealand, and Nigeria. It has indicated that it will file applications in 23 more countries – including Qatar, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Thailand. It released this statement when asked about Public Citizen’s open letter:
Pfizer believes that the granting of patent rights should be focused on claims that legitimately reflect innovation by the applicant. We do not file patents that lack genuine innovation, or for the purpose of limiting competition.
A letter dated Jan. 31 sent from Caroline Roan, Pfizer’s senior VP of global health and social impact, reinforced that Pfizer will offer a tiered-pricing approach for Paxlovid, with the cost depending on each country’s income level. Lower-income countries will pay for the doses at cost throughout the pandemic, and Pfizer won’t receive royalties on lower-income countries’ sales.
Roan’s letter also focused on the idea that vaccines are still the best first line of defense against the virus.
“It is important to first acknowledge that while Paxlovid is another tool in the arsenal against COVID-19, vaccinations remain the first line of defense,” the letter said. “Since the start of the pandemic, Pfizer and BioNTech’s paramount consideration has been equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all people around the world.”
But for Public Citizen, that wasn’t enough.
“We appreciate that they answered the letter, but we wish that they had answered our questions,” said Maybarduk to whom Pfizer’s response was addressed.