Life sciences industry says IP waiver an 'empty shell' and fact-free decision

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The research-based life sciences industry says the decision to waive intellectual property (IP) protections for COVID-19 vaccines is fundamentally flawed and will have a negative impact on future innovation.

Oliver Schacht, the chair of the International Council of Biotechnology Associations (AusBiotech is a member), said, “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.

“Intellectual property is what drives global collaboration and scientific development and has led to the development and delivery of over 12 billion COVID vaccines. The WTO agreement sends an unfortunate signal to the global community that IP is a barrier to public health rather than an enabler of innovation. This is an entirely unhelpful outcome.

“Biotech firms throughout ICBA member countries stand ready to support initiatives that would genuinely help put the COVID pandemic behind us and lament the decision to waiver IP.  We encourage the global community to focus on improving vaccine utilization, healthcare infrastructure and distribution, and addressing vaccine hesitancy in the developing world.”

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations described it as an “empty shell” and fact-free decision that will have severe consequences on innovation and global health security.

Medicines Australia CEO Liz de Somer said IP is one of the key reasons why multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines could be produced and scaled up so quickly during the height of the pandemic.

"This decision from the WTO Ministerial Conference has disregarded the evidence and distracts from the real barriers that are getting in the way of vaccinating more people around the world.

"Since the start of the pandemic, strong IP framework have supported pharmaceutical companies, scientists, researchers and manufacturers to create safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in record time.

"This week's decision sends a dangerous message to our community of amazing researchers and innovators that the intellectual property of their discoveries is a barrier to the pandemic response, when this is absolutely untrue.

"The emergence of COVID-19 variants and the threat of other future health pandemics mean we should be protecting the systems that enable medical innovation, not tearing them down.

"The TRIPS waiver pulls apart the very system that supported the fastest development of vaccines and enabled unprecedented collaboration and partnerships.

"More disappointing is that the fact that the WTO have not adequately addressed the real reasons that vaccines are not getting to the people that need them; trade, dose-sharing, distribution and country readiness for administration," she added.