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Pfizer warns that IP waiver for COVID-19 vaccines may invite ‘copycat medicines’

Company says removing IP protections would make it ‘harder’ to make vaccines in the short term

Pfizer has cautioned against removing intellectual property (IP) protections in a submission to an Australian parliamentary inquiry into vaccine fraud.

The warnings come following the surprising decision by the US to back a proposal submitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive IP and patents for all COVID-19 vaccines earlier this month.

Australia, which has held off backing the proposal, also received submissions from the home affairs and attorney general’s departments warning that its citizens may be subjected to ‘phishing scams’ offering vaccines if the IP waiver goes ahead.

In its submission, Pfizer said that the proposal to waive IP “incorrectly portrays IP as a barrier to rapid innovation, R&D collaboration and access to COVID-19 vaccines and other products”.

The pharma company commented: “Manufacturing of our vaccine involves the use of over 280 materials. These materials come from 86 suppliers in 19 different countries. If any one of the 280 different components from suppliers, however trivial, is not provided, we cannot manufacture or release the vaccine.”

“Greater demand pressures on inputs from new market entrants will make it harder, not easier, to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines in the near term.”

Pfizer maintained that waiving IP protections “may invite copycat medicines from suppliers that lack the knowhow to manufacture vaccine safely”.

In an open letter to Pfizer employees published last week, the company’s chief executive and chairman Albert Bourla said that “the proposed waiver for COVID-19 vaccines threatens to disrupt the flow of raw materials...[and] will unleash a scramble for the critical inputs we require in order to make a safe and effective vaccine”.

He also argued that “waiving of patent protection will disincentivise anyone else from taking a big risk”.

“The recent rhetoric will not discourage us from continuing investing in science. But I am not sure if the same is true for the thousands of small biotech innovators that are totally dependent on accessing capital from investors who invest only on the premise that their intellectual property will be protected,” he added.

If the proposal to waive IP protections is adopted, it would exempt WTO member countries from enforcing certain laws related to patents that are covered under its Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.

However, there is still a long road ahead before this can potentially be achieved, and the proposal will certainly continue to be met with opposition. Currently, the target for a final WTO agreement is set for 3 December 2021.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

13th May 2021

From: Regulatory

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