Vial and syringe.

The Pandemic Treaty and Intellectual Property Sharing: Making Vaccine Knowledge a Public Good 

By Ellen ‘t Hoen

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the lack of regulation for the sharing of intellectual property (IP) and technology needed for an effective and equitable response to the crisis.

The Pandemic Treaty (or other legal instrument) scheduled for discussion at the World Health Assembly in the fall of 2021 should focus on establishing the norm that the IP and knowledge needed to develop and produce essential pandemic health technologies become global public goods. It should also ensure predictable and sufficient financing for the development of such public goods.

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Globe and vaccine.

Promoting Vaccine Equity

By Ana Santos Rutschman

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief longstanding equity problems surrounding the allocation of newly developed vaccines against emerging pathogens.

In my upcoming book, Vaccines as Technology: Innovation, Barriers, and the Public Health, I examine these problems and look into possible solutions to incrementally build more equitable frameworks of access to vaccines targeting emerging pathogens. These solutions focus on ensuring that vaccines are made available affordably to the populations that need them the most according to public health parameters.

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Globe and vaccine.

Access-to-Medicines Activists Demand Health Justice During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Brook K. Baker 

It was apparent from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic that a business-as-usual approach — perpetuating the biopharmaceutical industry’s intellectual property-based monopolies and allowing artificial supply scarcity and nationalistic hoarding by rich countries — would result in systemic failure and gross inequity.

The world had seen it all before, from the Big Pharma blockade of affordable antiretrovirals to treat HIV/AIDS, to the hoarding of vaccines by the global north during the H1N1 bird flu outbreak in 2009 and its stockpiling of Tamiflu.

Activists in the access-to-medicines movement quickly mobilized to combat the threat of vaccine/therapeutic apartheid.

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Medical staff work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for COVID-19 patients in University Hospital of Liege in Belgium on May 5th, 2020.

The Legality of Pandemic Detection and Prevention Technology

*This article is adapted from a longer paper published in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform. To access the original paper, please click here.

By April Xiaoyi Xu  

A test-and-isolate system for detecting and monitoring new pathogens could avert future pandemics, but may face legal challenges in implementation.

The test-and-isolate model is described in a 2020 Scientific American article by biochemist David Ecker. Ecker recommends strategically placing modern, high-speed metagenomic sequencing technology in urban hospitals across the United States to flag previously-unknown pathogens before the infectious agents have the opportunity to spread widely and potentially start a new pandemic.

Under this model, during a time period without any apparent pandemics, the 200 biggest metropolitan hospitals in the U.S. would automatically run diagnostic tests up-front for novel causative agents among patients who visit the emergency room with severe respiratory symptoms that are possibly infectious. If such a system detects a sufficiently serious pathogen, public health agencies will send out diagnostic tests to all residents in the affected geographical area(s) within weeks and isolate those who test positive. This system also will be integrated with contact tracing and more standard outbreak response.

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Photograph of a stack of magazines on a chair

Impact of Journal of Law and the Biosciences Continues to Grow

The Journal of Law and Biosciences offers high-quality, open-access scholarship at the intersection of the biosciences and law. It is the first fully open-access, peer-reviewed legal journal to focus on these issues. The journal has international impact, with authors from across the globe vying for the opportunity to have their work published in the JLB.

Recently, the Journal of Law and the Biosciences received exciting news in the form of an updated impact factor score. The journal now has an impact factor of 3.583, a substantial increase from the year prior. It ranks #7 out of 151 law journals, an admirable position for the youngest journal included in the rankings. It is also second out of sixteen journals in the medical ethics category, as well as second out of seventeen journals in the legal medicine category.

In honor of this achievement, the Journal has compiled a list of the most impactful articles included in this calculation period.

The Journal continues to publish a wide variety of exciting new material. The most recent issue, which closed in June 2021, contains numerous articles from highly regarded scholars exploring hot-button issues in bioethics. The following excerpts offer a small preview of the wide breadth of analysis contained in the most recent edition.

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international connections concept art.

The Prospects for an IP Waiver Under the TRIPS Agreement

By Duncan Matthews and Timo Minssen

The informal meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council today, July 6, 2021, focuses international attention once more on prospects for a waiver of the TRIPS Agreement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regardless of whether an actual TRIPS waiver ultimately comes to pass, the real significance of these efforts lies in the increased focus they have placed on the role of IP and trade secrets in improving access and affordability, and scaling-up of manufacturing and supply of vaccines and other health-related technologies. These conversations have introduced the possibility of a rethinking of the relationship between IP, innovation, conservation, and access.

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Photo of person with gloved hand holding flask at lab bench.

US Support for a WTO Waiver of COVID-19 Intellectual Property – What Does it Mean?

By Jorge L. Contreras

On May 5, 2021, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that the U.S. would support a “waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic” currently being discussed at the World Trade Organization (WTO). This announcement, representing a reversal of longstanding U.S. policy toward intellectual property, came as a welcome surprise to much of the world, but elicited strong negative responses from the pharmaceutical industry as stock prices of leading vaccine producers sank.

In the short time since the announcement was made, there has been a fair amount of speculation, hyperbole, and misinformation on the topic. In this post, I offer an explanation of what just happened, and my guess as to what its likely effects will be, bearing in mind that the situation is fast-moving and somewhat unpredictable.

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Patient receives Covid-19 vaccine.

10 Design Considerations for Vaccine Credentials

By Adrian Gropper

As COVID-19 vaccines become widely, if not fairly, available in different regions, both the public and private sector are working to develop vaccine credentials and associated surveillance systems.

Information technology applied to vaccination can be effective, but it can also be oppressive, discriminatory, and counter-productive.

But these systems can be tuned to reflect and address key concerns.

What follows is a list of ten separable concerns, and responsive design strategies. The concept of separation of concerns in technology design offers a path to better health policy. Because each concern hardly interacts with the others, any of them can be left out of the design in order to prioritize more important outcomes. Together, all of them can maximize scientific benefit while enhancing social trust.

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Syringe being filled from a vial. Vaccine concept illustration.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Patent Waiver: The Wrong Tool for the Right Goal

By Ana Santos Rutschman and Julia Barnes-Weise

As the toll of COVID-19 continues to increase in many countries in the Global South, there has been a renewed push to address the problem of vaccine scarcity through a waiver of patent rights. Calls for waivers have been recurring throughout the pandemic, from formal proposals introduced in 2020 by some of the larger developing economies (India and South Africa), to op-eds in mainstream media, and editorials in scientific publications, such as Nature. This push gained momentum in early May 2021, just before the meeting of the World Trade Organization’s General Council.

Waiver proposals have attracted the support of prominent names in public health. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, endorsed patent waivers as a tool to address the current vaccine scarcity problem in an article titled Waive Covid Vaccine Patents to Put World on “War Footing.” Others — including, most recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci — have been critical of waiver proposals.

In this piece, we explain the mechanics of patent waivers and argue that waivers alone are the wrong policy tool in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We agree with supporters of the waivers in their ultimate goal — that of scaling up the manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines, and then distributing them according to more equitable models than the ones adopted thus far. However, we doubt that the particular types of goods at stake here can be easily replicated and produced in substantially larger quantities simply through a waiver of intellectual property rights.

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Illustration of fetus, DNA, lab supplies

Assisted Reproductive Technologies: A Bioethical Argument for Medicaid Coverage

By Sravya Chary

Assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) such as artificial insemination, egg retrieval, and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) have revolutionized the landscape for people facing reproductive obstacles. Disappointingly, none of these technologies are covered under Medicaid — an insurance program for low-income adults and children, and people with qualifying disabilities.

Given the high prices of ARTs, those on Medicaid, which includes a disproportionate number of BIPOC individuals, are left behind in sharing the benefits of advancements in reproductive technologies. It is vital for ARTs to be covered under Medicaid to uphold reproductive justice and autonomy for this patient population.

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