The profits of the pharmaceutical industry are protected by a wall of patents that guarantee drug makers until their work is finished. On Wednesday, Joe Biden broke decades of U.S. orthodoxy and tore down the wall.
His administration decision to support a temporary reversal of Covid-19 vaccine patents that provoked immediate outrage in the pharmaceutical sector, arguing that the move undermined their intellectual property rights and hindered innovation. in the US while sending jobs abroad.
“Intellectual ownership is the life of biotech, it’s like oxygen in our industry,” said Brad Loncar, an investor in biotech. “If you take it, you don’t have a biotech sector.”
Biden’s chief business adviser Katherine Tai said that while the U.S. government “strongly believes” in intellectual property protections, it supports bidding on patents for Covid-19 Vaccines to help boost the worldwide making of jabs.
The move comes as a few countries, including India, struggle to deal with further waves of the virus even as others launch successful vaccination campaigns resulting in infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
The proposed waiver was approved by the World Trade Organization in October and has since been supported by more than 60 countries that say vaccine production around the world needs to increase significantly to control the virus. Washington’s support marks an important step in making the proposal a reality and Tai said the U.S. will join negotiations to redress the details of the WTO waiver.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, told the Financial Times that the decision was a “significant moment” in the fight Covid-19. “I’m not surprised by this announcement. This is what I expect from President Biden’s administration.”
However, the pharma industry did not expect this; the U.S. tends to protect the intellectual property rights of domestic companies in disputes. Industry leaders described the decision as a heavy blow for innovation that could do little to improve world production because of a lack of manufacturing facilities and skilled workers.
“The administrative measures here are unnecessary and damaging,” said Jeremy Levin, chairman of biotech trade associate Bio. “Securing vaccines quickly is not the consequence, and worse, it sets a principle that companies that invest in new tech will stand the risk of getting that.”
Parts of the major makers of the Covid-19 vaccine were hit by the announcement. BioNTech’s Frankfurt -listed shares lost 14 percent on Thursday. Moderna and Novavax closed between 3 percent and 6 percent in New York the previous day.
Sven Borho, a co-founder of OrbiMed Advisors, a healthcare investment firm, said pharma executives feared the administration’s move would be a pattern that would speed up the suspension of patents in the future.
“They’ve been worried for a long time that it’s the foot in the door -‘ OK, we do it with Covid -19, we’ll do it in the next crisis, and the next ’, he said.” And then suddenly it’s a drug patent of cancer that should be invalid. They fear this is a mechanism that will set the stage for future actions. ”
Peter Bach, director of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Center for Health Policy and Outcome, said there was a potential trade-off that provided the imminent need to curb pandemics against the risk that drug makers could become more be wary of investing in pioneering therapies in the future.
“If this action allows more access and more people to save their lives now by 2021 and the result is on the way that we don’t have new gen therapy for 100 children, then that’s the value. of trade worth discussing, ”Bach said.
The battle over intellectual property rights was the first major international patent dispute from the controversy over expensive HIV treatment between drug makers and several countries including Brazil and South Africa in the latter part. in 1990
Countries struggling to prevent the epidemic want to make their own general versions of HIV drugs but the companies that develop them interpret the measures as a violation of patent agreements, resulting in a litigation welter who was outraged by efforts to provide a supply of affordable pills.
Members of the pharmaceutical industry have argued that the suspension of Covid-19 vaccine patents in an effort to increase production abroad would hurt jobs in the U.S. biotech sector. The Donald Trump administration strongly opposed the waiver last year.
Levin said that U.S. technology “can create jobs in America but by moving it abroad there is great harm in creating very high quality jobs. [here]”.
The mRNA technology used in the BioNTech / Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has been tested to treat other diseases such as cancer and heart disease, and pharma lobbyists say they have suspended their patents to allow other countries to -piggyback on US research achievements.
The long -term consequences are unclear. Umer Raffat, an analyst at Evercore ISI, noted that the waiver is not permanent, and other influential players, including the EU and the UK, have not yet supported the Biden administration’s move.
Borho of OrbiMed said: “This is a unique situation. I think it will finally be narrow and just enough for Covid-19 vaccines. I don’t think the Biden administration wants to ruin the extensive patents for in biotech or the pharma industry. ”
Supporters hailed the waiver of the U.S. government’s decision as an important step toward strengthening worldwide supply of Covid-19 vaccines.
“The pharmaceutical industry says the pandemic doesn’t have time for business as usual,” said Zain Rizvi, Public Citizen’s access to medicines specialist. “Funded by billions of taxpayers, [vaccine makers] there is a moral necessity to stop counter -efforts aimed at expanding. . . production. “