BIO President and CEO Michelle McMurry-Heath, M.D., Ph.D., sent a letter April 19 to U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai to explain why the WTO’s proposed “TRIPS waiver” would have global health and economic consequences as the pandemic rages on.
India, South Africa, and some U.S. Senators claim a waiver of the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement would facilitate COVID-19 vaccine development. But as Hans Sauer, BIO’s Deputy General Counsel for Intellectual Property, explained in an article published yesterday by IP Watchdog, IP rights enable development.
At a WTO conference on COVID-19 equity last Wednesday, Ambassador Tai said she discussed the issue with Indian and South African officials and emphasized that developing countries must have equal access to vaccines.
BIO agrees on the need for access: “We call for the U.S. and other countries to prioritize the distribution of vaccines to the most at-risk patients” around the globe.
However: “forced transfer of vaccine technology by WTO members will only impel countries to try to go it alone in terms of supplying vaccines,” resulting in supply and capacity problems.
Furthermore, weakening IP protections hurts U.S. workers, by giving “license to other countries—some of them our economic competitors—to hollow-out our world leading biotechnology base, export jobs abroad, and undermine incentives to invest in such technologies in the future.”
The biotechnology industry is already prioritizing access. “Over 900 companies around the world, over 70% of them small enterprises, and 50% of them in the United States, have redirected their limited resources from other vital health research into COVID,” says the letter—and these companies are forging partnerships to ensure access to vaccines and treatments worldwide.
What’s the solution? Similar sacrifice from governments. BIO specifically urges the United States to “devote significantly more resources to multilateral and unilateral efforts to procure vaccines for low-and middle-income countries.”