Members of the WTO on Friday June 17 reached an agreement to waive certain parts of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
The decision allows countries to authorize the use of patents related to the production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines without the consent of the patent holder; however, countries must provide “adequate remuneration” to the holder.
The TRIPS waiver compromise will contribute to ongoing efforts to deconcentrate and diversify vaccine manufacturing capacity so that a crisis in one region does not leave others cut off, argued WTO director-general, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The EU Council welcomed the agreement.
R&D critical to tackle future pandemics
However, Nathalie Moll, director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), said the decision was a backward step in terms of industry’s collective ability to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and future global health threats.
“The last two years have underlined that the only effective response to pandemics is grounded in research, development and innovation. That ability to respond is built on having a solid IP framework.
“It is not our ability to manufacture doses that stands in the way of vaccine equity but the capacity and infrastructure to deliver vaccination programs around the world and at times, trade barriers. Those are the issues that would need to be addressed by the international community, rather than removing a key driver for innovators to discover, develop and deliver solutions for this, and future pandemics,” she stressed.
IP 'not barrier' to vaccine scale-up
IFPMA, the body representing biopharmaceutical companies in Geneva, echoed that statement, saying intellectual property (IP) was not a barrier to vaccine scale-up.
The decision, it continued, sends a dangerous signal not only to the pharmaceutical industry but to all innovative sectors. Dismantling the very framework that has brought solutions to tackle COVID-19 and facilitated the unprecedented number of partnerships, voluntary licensing, and knowledge-sharing taking place during the pandemic can have ripple effects for the future, it added.
Thomas Cueni, IFPMA lead, commenting on the WTO action, said: “The conversations on an intellectual property waiver have been challenging from the beginning, with disregard to evidence and facts. The decision is a disservice to the scientists that left no stone unturned and undermines manufacturing partnerships on every continent. The single biggest factor affecting vaccine scarcity is not intellectual property, but trade. This has not been fully addressed by the World Trade Organization.”