Analysis: US move to relax vaccine patents will prompt pharmaceutical companies to negotiate lawyers

US support for waiving intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines could be a tactic to convince drugmakers to support less drastic measures like sharing technology and expanding joint ventures to quickly boost production global, lawyers said Thursday.

“I think the end result that most players are looking for here is not a waiver of intellectual property in particular, it is expanded global access to vaccines,” said Professor Lisa Ouellette of Stanford Law School.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday backed a proposal to waive World Trade Organization intellectual property (IP) rules, which would allow poorer countries to produce vaccines themselves. So far, COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed mainly to the rich countries that developed them, while the pandemic is sweeping through the poorest, like India.

The real goal, however, is to expand vaccine distribution.

“If it is possible to increase the ramp-up rate of production, it would potentially give manufacturers greater motivation to come to an agreement for this to happen,” Ouellette said.

Vaccine makers like Moderna (MRNA.O), Pfizer (PFE.N) and BioNTEch have argued that patents have not been a supply limiting factor. New technologies and global supply limitations are often cited as challenges, and Moderna and Pfizer have nonetheless regularly boosted supply forecasts.

“There is no mRNA in manufacturing capacity in the world,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said on Thursday in a conference call with investors, referring to the messenger RNA technology behind Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

“It’s new technology. You can’t hire people who know how to make mRNA. These people don’t exist. And even if all of these things were available, anyone who wants to make mRNA vaccines will have to buy the machine, invent the manufacturing process, invent the verification and analytical processes. “

A medical worker prepares a dose of the Oxford / AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Antwerp, Belgium, March 18, 2021. REUTERS / Yves Herman

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To dramatically increase vaccine production capacity within two years, the Biden administration would need to do much more than waive patents, including providing funds to find and build new manufacturing sites, and support technology transfer and of expertise to new manufacturers, said a pharmaceutical supply chain expert. Prashant Yadav.

Additionally, the US government must be wary of allowing foreign companies to use technology from COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers to compete in areas outside of COVID-19, which are likely to be more lucrative in the long run, Thomas said. Kowalski, lawyer at Duane. Morris who specializes in intellectual property. Once a competitor has the technology, restrictions on use are difficult to enforce, he said.

Professor Sarah Rajec of William & Mary Law School said she didn’t think a waiver in and of itself would do as much as the signal from the United States, a bigger proponent of corporate intellectual property, than the U.S. patent rights take precedence over the urgent needs of the world. population during the pandemic.

Rajec said Biden’s support for a waiver “pushes drug companies to be more open to partnerships and other licensing on favorable terms, in a way that they might not otherwise be.”

The drugmakers say they have already made important partnerships, sharing the technology with competitors they might not have been linked with if it weren’t for the pandemic.

“Our position is very clear: this decision will further complicate our efforts to deliver vaccines to populations around the world, treat emerging variants and save lives,” said Brian Newell, spokesperson for the pharmaceutical industry group Pharmaceutical Research. and Manufacturers of America in a press release.

European patent attorney Micaela Modiano said that even if the waiver is passed, vaccine makers are likely to negotiate a payment, if less than what is typically paid in license agreements. His firm Modiano & Parners represents Pfizer but has not worked on issues related to COVID-19.

“I imagine the pharmaceutical companies are already and will continue to lobby in significant ways to ensure that if this waiver proposal is passed it just doesn’t pass as such, but that they receive some sort of financial compensation. “she said.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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