The news of the start of major clinical tests of vaccine candidates against Covid-19 chases itself daily, the stock market values of the companies involved race up and down, depending on whether they are ahead of the competition or whether they are ahead of the competition. Is it actually justifiable that a large part of the investment risk in vaccine development is assumed by the public sector, but in the end the profit of the company decides who gets access to vaccines and how quickly?
Covid-19: pandemics, patent protection and poor patients
10 million people fell victim to the immunodeficiency disease AIDS 20 years ago because patent holders prevented the production of generic drugs. The ongoing race for a vaccine candidate against the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus is also a race for patents. Have companies and governments learned something new, or do patent law and patent litigation threaten to be responsible for deaths again?
The battle for generic drugs against AIDS is a dark chapter in medical history. For years, doctors in southern Africa were forced to decide who could and who could not receive – and continue to live – the HIV drugs sold by Western pharmaceutical companies.
The companies prevented the production of inexpensive generics through lawsuits and by urging politicians to threaten countries such as South Africa with sanctions if they undermine their patent protection. According to experts, this patent strategy cost 10 to 12 million lives unnecessarily.
Completely changed conditions
Can that also happen with Covid-19? “The clear answer is no,” assures Siegfried Throm, Research Director of the Association of Research-Based Drug Manufacturers (vfa). A whole series of organizations have been founded since then, which try to prevent the artificial shortage of essential drugs through agreements with manufacturers and their own projects.
The Gavi (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) vaccine alliance has existed since 2000, the Medicin Patent Pool (MPP) founded by Unitaid since 2010 and the CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, since 2016. The MPP aims to promote the long-blocked access of poor countries to drugs for HIV, hepatitis C and TB. The CEPI initiative was created in response to the Ebola epidemic in Africa and aims to stimulate vaccine research in such neglected areas.
According to Throm, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has invested billions in Gavi, Cepi and MPP, has also achieved some things. You have learned from the past, says Throm, “also the companies”. The member companies of his association are also bringing patents to the MPP today, “so that generics can be manufactured at an early stage. The situation has changed fundamentally. ”