Syringe and vials of vaccine.

How Does Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Work, and Who Is Funding Its Development?

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on August 19, 2020. 

By Jacob S. Sherkow, Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, Nicholson Price, and Rachel Sachs

Moderna, Inc., a Cambridge, MA-based biotech company, is a leading contender in the race to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Moderna’s vaccine, however, works using a completely novel mechanism, unlike any other vaccine currently approved anywhere in the world. Despite this, the U.S. government—and two agencies in particular, the NIH and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA)—has invested, heavily, in the vaccine’s development. This week, we explore how these investments interact through different forms of research partnerships, and what this says about IP, novel technologies, and innovation policy.

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a pile of vaccine vials and a needle

COVID-19 Vaccine Advance Purchases Explained

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on August 5, 2020. 

By Nicholson PriceRachel SachsJacob S. Sherkow, and Lisa Larrimore Ouellette

No vaccine for the novel coronavirus has been approved anywhere. Nevertheless, governments and international organizations around the world are announcing deals for billions of dollars to procure tens of millions of doses of vaccines from companies that are still running clinical trials, including a $2.1 billion deal with Sanofi and GSK announced by the US on Friday. What’s going on? And what do these deals tell us about innovation policy for COVID-19 vaccines? In this post, we lay out the landscape of COVID-19 vaccine pre-purchases; we then turn to the innovation impact of these commitments, and finish by asking what role patents and compulsory licensing have to play.
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a stethoscope tied around a dollar bill, with a bottle of pills nearby

What Ever Happened to NIH’s “Fair Pricing” Clause?

By Jorge L. Contreras

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, calls have been made for “fair” and “reasonable” pricing of the vaccines and therapeutics that will eventually be approved to address the virus. A range of proposals in this regard have been made by members of Congress, the Trump Administration, various states, academics and civil society.

Amid this current debate, it is worth remembering the brief period from 1989 to 1995 when the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) did impose reasonable pricing constraints on drugs that were developed as part of cooperative R&D agreements (“CRADAs”) between federal agencies and private industry.

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Blister pack of pills, but instead of bills dollar bills are rolled up in the packaging

To Cut Prescription Drug Spending, Stop Delays for Generic Competition

By Beatrice Brown and Benjamin Rome

Prescription drug spending in the U.S. remains high and continues to rise, accounting for about 20% of national health expenditures. While generic competition is crucial for reducing drug prices, brand-name drug manufacturers can utilize several strategies to delay such competition by increasing the length of market exclusivity for their drugs.

Although brand-name drugs only account for 18% of all prescriptions filled, they comprise 78% of total drug spending. By contrast, equally-effective, interchangeable generic drugs can offer discounts of up to 80% off their brand-name drug counterparts.

Generic competitors can only be introduced after brand-name drugs have completed their period of market exclusivity, which typically lasts 12-16 years and is largely determined by the patents covering the drug. Brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturers have strong financial incentives to prolong this market exclusivity period and delay entry of generic products.

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U.S. Patent and Trademark Office building

Patent Fakes: How Fraudulent Inventions Threaten Public Health, Innovation, and the Economy

By Jorge L. Contreras, JD

The U.S. patent system gives inventors a 20-year exclusive right to their inventions to incentivize the creation of new technologies.

But what if you have a great idea for a new technology, but never actually create it, test it, or determine that it works? Is that patentable? Conversely, should the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) grant patents covering imaginary, fraudulent and otherwise non-existent inventions? Probably not, but it happens with alarming frequency, and it is causing serious problems.

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Introducing New Contributor Jorge Contreras

Jorge Contreras.Jorge Contreras is joining Bill of Health as a regular contributor.

Jorge L. Contreras is a Presidential Scholar and Professor of Law at the University of Utah with an adjunct appointment in the Department of Human Genetics. His research focuses on intellectual property, technical standards and science policy, and he is one of the co-founders of the Open COVID Pledge, a framework for contributing intellectual property to the COVID-19 response. Professor Contreras is the editor of six books and the author of more than 100 scholarly articles and chapters appearing in scientific, legal and policy journals including Science, Nature, Georgetown Law Journal, NYU Law Review, Iowa Law Review, Harvard Journal of Law and Technology and Antitrust Law Journal.  He has served as a member of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Council of Councils, the Advisory Councils of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), and as the Co-Chair of the National Conference of Lawyers and Scientists. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School (JD) and Rice University (BSEE, BA).

Doctor or nurse wearing PPE, N95 mask, face shield and personal protective gown standing beside the car/road screening for Covid-19 virus, Nasal swab Test.

COVID-19 Highlights Need for Rights to Repair and Produce in Emergencies

By Joshua D. Sarnoff

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies, organizations, and individuals have sought to address supply chain gaps for needed medical equipment. Spare parts and products created during the COVID-19 pandemic include ventilator tube splitters, nasopharyngeal swabs, and face shields.

In the past, outside of the context of a public health crisis, I have discussed the need to adopt legislation to create a narrow exemption from design patent liability to assure a competitive supply of automobile repair parts. The current pandemic makes a stronger case for the need to explicitly incorporate into our legal system a right to repair and supply products in emergencies.

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Graph with number of biosimilar approvals on the X axis and years from 1970 until 2018 on the Y axis. The line on the graph represents a generally upward trend.

The Rise of Biosimilars: Success of the BPCIA? (Part III)

By Jonathan Darrow

This is Part III in a series exploring the history, challenges, and opportunities in the regulation of biosimilars, or biologic medical products that are very similar to already approved biological medicines.  Part III considers a path forward in the regulation of biologics.  For Part I, click here.  For Part II click here.

A Path Forward

The small number of biosimilar approvals compared to generic drug approvals cannot establish the failure of the BPCIA due to differences in industry familiarity with each follow-on pathway, the number of reference products available for copying, patient population sizes, patent barriers, and drug costs. The later arrival of US laws and guidance documents—not inadequate legal design—is the most straightforward explanation of why the first US biosimilar approvals were delayed compared to those in Europe.

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Graph with number of biosimilar approvals on the X axis and years from 1970 until 2018 on the Y axis. The line on the graph represents a generally upward trend.

The Rise of Biosimilars: Success of the BPCIA? (Part II)

By Jonathan Darrow

This is Part II in a series exploring the history, challenges, and opportunities in the regulation of biosimilars, or biologic medical products that are very similar to already approved biological medicines.  Part II covers some key considerations and factors that impact the biologics market and regulation.  For Part I, click here.

Reference Products Available for Copying in 1984

Because most post-1962 drugs enjoyed a 17-year patent term (changed to 20 years in 1995), there was little need for an abbreviated pathway in the years immediately following the Kefauver-Harris Amendments. But as patents expired, increasing numbers of post-1962 drugs became available for copying yet were ineligible as reference products under the 1970 ANDA regulations. On the eve of the Hatch-Waxman Act, Congress estimated that approximately 150 post-1962 drugs were off-patent but had no generic equivalent. This backlog of available reference products produced a surge in ANDA approvals following enactment of the new law (Exhibit 1).

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