Vaccine.

The Proposed TRIPS Compromise Risks Setting Several Bad Precedents

By James Love

On March 15, 2022, STAT published text of a proposed compromise at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily relax global standards for intellectual property for COVID-19. The original proposal tabled by India and South Africa in 2020 as IP/C/W/669 would have waived 40 articles of the WTO Trade Related Agreement on Intellectual Property Rights, known as the TRIPS.

The proposed compromise would allow for “the use of patented subject matter required for the production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines without the consent of the right holder to the extent necessary to address the COVID-19 pandemic, in accordance with the provisions of Article 31 of the Agreement, as clarified and waived.” In short, the compromise only waives a single 20-word paragraph in one article: the one dealing with exports under a non-voluntary authorization.

In general, there are no legal benefits to the proposal. Countries can already export a non-predominant share of vaccine production under the TRIPS agreement, with mechanisms that are broader regarding both exports and imports, available regardless of the technology, and permanent.

This note focuses on the practical risks the proposed agreement presents as a precedent.

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POPLAR affiliated reseachers

Introducing Affiliated Researchers for the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation

(Clockwise from top left: Kwasi Adusei, Ismail Lourido Ali, Jonathan Perez-Reyzin, Dustin Marlan.)

We are excited to welcome our inaugural group of affiliated researchers for the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR). Through regular contributions to Bill of Health, as well as workshops and other projects, POPLAR affiliated researchers will share their expertise and perspectives on developments in psychedelics law and policy. We look forward to learning from and sharing their insights with our audiences. Keep an eye out for their bylines!

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Globe and vaccine.

COVID ‘Compromise’ on International IP Underscores Need for New Approach

By Cynthia M. Ho

The leaked compromise regarding a “waiver” of international intellectual property (IP) obligations under the TRIPS Agreement for World Trade Organization (WTO) members has met harsh criticism as a shadow of the original proposal to waive international obligations regarding patent, trade secret, and copyright obligations relating to any COVID vaccine, treatment, diagnostic, or personal protective equipment (PPE).

The compromise excludes diagnostics, treatments, and PPE. It only narrowly modifies compulsory licenses of patents covering COVID vaccines. Moreover, it imposes additional restrictions on use of compulsory licenses. But still, multinational pharmaceutical manufacturers have protested even these modest changes from the status quo, arguing that there is no IP problem that needs to be fixed.

Clearly there is a problem. It has taken 18 months since the original Indian and South African proposal to get to this limited compromise, while gross vaccine inequity between wealthy and poor countries continues. In addition, the leaked compromise between four WTO members is still being debated — and even if agreement can be reached, it needs agreement of over 100 other WTO members. We need a new approach.

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close up of hands signing contract.

Using Contracts to Lessen Inequities in Access to Medicines in Pandemics and Epidemics

By Sapna Kumar and Ana Santos Rutschman

Research funding contracts can help to safeguard against profound inequities in global allocation and distribution of lifesaving diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines.

During large transnational public health crises, global demand soars for diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines. Although some of these products can be developed within compressed timelines, global production capacity remains limited. Against a backdrop of product scarcity, wealthier countries can out-bid their lower-income counterparts and capture most of the supply during the early stages of pandemics and epidemics. This leaves the vulnerable low-income populations waiting months, or even years, for their turn.

This predictable, inequitable pattern can be held off before the next pandemic. At the research and development (R&D) stage, government funders can bind producers to equity goals through targeted contractual provisions, as we explain in a recently-published Nature Biotechnology article. We summarize our proposals in the following sections. Read More

Two hands holding the light bulb that is illuminating. Creative protecting patents and ideas concept.

Graduate Students’ Curricula Should Include Intellectual Property

By Matt Bauer

Science and engineering graduate students’ curricula should include cross-disciplinary studies in intellectual property (IP).

These students research, discover, and invent new technology and methodologies for their thesis work. Accordingly, they should be better equipped to understand and navigate the fundamentals of intellectual property to protect those innovations.

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Large pile of amber prescription pill bottles

Monthly Round-Up of What to Read on Pharma Law and Policy

By Ameet Sarpatwari, Alexander Egilman, Beatrice Brown, and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Each month, members of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) review the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify interesting empirical studies, policy analyses, and editorials on health law and policy issues.

Below are the citations for papers identified from the month of January. The selections feature topics ranging from a discussion of why state laws restricting mifepristone access may be subject to federal preemption, to an analysis of patents impacting the availability of biosimilars, to an evaluation of the hypothetical out-of-pocket costs of guideline-recommended medications for the treatment of older adults with multiple chronic diseases. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website.

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Front view of light silver bank vault door, closed. 3D Render.

The Risk of Pervasive Trade Secret Practices Within the Life Sciences

By Matt Bauer

The changing landscape of the life sciences industry relies more and more on a form of intellectual property protection called trade secrets to safeguard mechanisms of manufacturing and process knowledge not always included within life science patents.

To the public, this means the methods of production for life saving therapeutics may be kept indefinitely in the hands a single company, never to enter the public domain.

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BETHESDA, MD - JUNE 29, 2019: NIH NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH sign emblem seal on gateway center entrance building at NIH campus. The NIH is the US's medical research agency.

Will NIH Learn from Myriad when Settling Its mRNA Inventorship Dispute with Moderna?

By Jorge L. Contreras

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently embroiled in a dispute over the ownership of patent rights to Moderna’s flagship mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (mRNA-1273).

The NIH, which funded much of Moderna’s research on the COVID-19 vaccine, should be assertive in exerting control over the results of this taxpayer-funded research. Failing to do so would be a missed opportunity for the public sector to have a say in the distribution and pricing of this critical medical technology.

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Vial and syringe.

Addressing IP Barriers in the Context of a Pandemic Treaty

This post was originally published on the Verfassungsblog as part of our joint symposium on international pandemic lawmaking.

By Paul Ogendi

Tackling the question of how to address the needs for sharing scientific research, pooling technology, and know-how in diagnostics, therapeutics, and potential vaccines in future epidemics is fundamental to any pandemic treaty discussion. Moreover, we also need to consider how such a treaty might address potential conflicts with the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.

First of all, market-based solutions do not work in the context of global pandemics as has been demonstrated in the COVID-19 pandemic that is currently ravaging the world. Market-based solutions demand putting too much faith in the private sector, both in terms of capacity (supply chains, etc.) and in terms of equity. By relying on the private sector in the context of COVID-19, many countries are struggling to secure adequate personal protective equipment, testing kits, and more importantly life-saving vaccines.

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FRAND Terms for Pandemic-essential Intellectual Property Rights

This post was originally published on the Verfassungsblog as part of our joint symposium on international pandemic lawmaking.

By Kaat Van Delm

Our international norms are arguably ill adapted to emergencies such as pandemics. In this contribution I discuss a potential remedy for one related challenge, namely, cooperation amongst competitors for the accelerated development of vaccines. A way to foster cooperation could be the use of fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (“FRAND”) terms to the licensing of pandemic-essential intellectual property rights (IPR). Specifically, states could make participation in public procurement for vaccines by pharmaceutical companies conditional upon accepting FRAND terms for their IPR relevant for vaccine development. I do not suggest changes to the existing rules for allocation of IPR. Rather, I attempt to explore an acceptable limitation of such rights in case of a pandemic. 

Transposing the concept of FRAND terms from standardization to the licensing of pandemic-essential IPR has potential because of the concept’s flexibility. FRAND terms do not require commitment to specific royalties in advance, therefore leaving room for considering new information such as the monetary value of the IPR concerned or the severity of the health crisis.

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