This is an interesting and fair assessment from the BIA concerning the decision taken by the WTO at its ministerial conference (MC12) to endorse an IP TRIPS Waiver for COVID-19 vaccines. And it certainly chimes with my views about the questionable benefits that an IP waiver may have in order to create wider access to existing vaccines during the current pandemic and/or for future vaccines for the next epidemic or pandemic.
Having worked on many biotech patent disputes, including in relation to vaccines, it is abundantly clear that many, if not all, vaccine manufacturers protect vast swathes of the technology they use to develop and manufacture vaccines as trade secrets. Much of the "instruction manual" of how to create and produce a specific vaccine is simply not out in the public domain. And whilst some of the underlying technology is utilised in a number of product lines, some are specific to particular products and vaccines. In my view, patents protect the tips of the icebergs - and that is not to say that those tips are not critically important. It seems to me that speeding up regulatory processes - such as are in place for example for yearly flu vaccines, and encouraging investment in production sites in less well-served parts of the world, would be a far more efficient way of getting faster and wider access to vaccines to those countries that are now in the biggest need. An IP waiver alone will not create greater access to the existing pool of available vaccines.
And in terms of future vaccines, serious investment needs to be made now to ensure that we have the necessary tools in place to be able rapidly to react to the next potential viral or bacterial epidemic. Giving wide access to patents will be counter product as the necessary investment will not be made.
“The new WTO agreement will make it far harder for innovative small biotech companies to raise finance to develop their innovations against the next threat and does nothing to solve the immediate access to vaccines challenges the globe faces. It incorrectly points to intellectual property as a barrier to the pandemic response rather than an enabler bringing healthcare solutions, safely and quickly to patients.”