Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Opinion | The Risk in Suspending Vaccine Patent Rules

Companies can afford to license patents for free, or sell drugs at cost, precisely because they know that their intellectual property will be protected. That’s not a flaw in the system; it’s how the system ensures that pharmaceutical research will continue to be funded.

Eroding patent protections has far-reaching consequences.

Take “messenger RNA,” the technology platform that supports the vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin, the wife-and-husband team at the helm of BioNTech, began exploring the use of mRNA more than 25 years ago and founded their company in 2008. Theoretically, mRNA can instruct the body to engineer proteins, including ones that increase immunity against infectious pathogens, cancers and rare genetic conditions. But the Covid-19 vaccines are the first truly successful applications of this technology. Scientists eager to explore future uses of mRNA will struggle to find investment if intellectual property protections are snatched away when others deem it necessary.

Critics of intellectual property rights cite public investment in research as a reason to waive patent protections. They correctly point out that governments bankroll important, early-stage research across the sciences. It’s true that without public funds from agencies like the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority or the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, global drug companies might not have developed Covid-19 vaccines so quickly. But here, the funding principally helped reduce risk and accelerate production timelines — the research and development were still driven by scientists in the private sector. Further, governments have neither the money nor the risk tolerance to take over the role of businesses in developing pharmacy-ready medicines.

There is no available substitute for private funding in bringing new medicines to market. Directing government labs to manufacture medicines, for example, would politicize drug development, empowering politicians and their appointees to decide which research lines were worth funding.

There is also no reason to fear a Covid-19 vaccine monopoly. According to the World Health Organization, there are 214 Covid-19 vaccine projects around the world; 52 are in clinical trials, with 13 in the most advanced phase of testing. Seven have been approved for emergency or limited use in various countries. In short, we are rapidly headed for a competitive marketplace, the opposite of a monopoly.

There are, to be sure, serious obstacles to distributing Covid-19 vaccines quickly and fairly around the world. But they have nothing to do with intellectual property. The challenge, rather, is speedy manufacturing. A study from the U.S. Defense Department estimated that it would cost $1.56 billion over 25 years to build and operate a facility producing three vaccines. Facilities cost less in developing countries like India, but only marginally. The equipment required to manufacture vaccines — bioreactors, centrifuges, cold storage and the like — is expensive everywhere. That’s why Covid-19 vaccine production is taking place almost exclusively in existing facilities.

Dismantling patent protection would do nothing to expand access to vaccines or to boost global manufacturing capacity. Research scientists develop vaccines in record time because they have the security and resources that come with a robust system of protection for their intellectual property. That system is crucial to allowing companies to create the vaccines we need for wide distribution.

Thomas Cueni is director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Source link

Latest Articles

Widely used chemical linked to 1,00,000 US deaths per year: Study

NEW YORK: Daily exposure to phthalates, a group of chemicals used in everything from plastic containers to makeup, may lead to approximately 100,000 deaths...

Foods to Reduce Inflammation and Strengthen the Immune System

Did you know that you can greatly reduce inflammation and boost your immune system by simply incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods and beverages into your...

Personal Selling

INTRODUCTION Early sellers and traders were not held in high esteem. The Roman word for salesman meant ‘Cheater’ and...

Building Muscle on a Vegan Diet

There are a lot of  misconceptions surrounding veganism. The notion that those who practice it are lacking in protein and therefore muscles is the...

Electrodes in brain new hope for severe cases of epilepsy

Neurosurgeons at All India Institute of Medical Sciences have devised a new technique for operating on children suffering from a severe form of epilepsy...