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Technology, World News

Countries call on drug companies to share vaccine know-how

PARIS (AP) — In an industrial neighborhood on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s largest city lies a factory with gleaming new equipment imported from Germany, its immaculate hallways lined with...

3/1/2021 12:00:00 PM

Across Africa and Southeast Asia , governments and aid groups, as well as the World Health Organization, are increasingly calling on pharmaceutical companies to share their coronavirus vaccine know-how and technology more broadly.

PARIS (AP) — In an industrial neighborhood on the outskirts of Bangladesh ’s largest city lies a factory with gleaming new equipment imported from Germany, its immaculate hallways lined with...

— in very limited quantities.But rich countries are not willing to give up what they have. Earlier this month, Ursula Von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, used the phrase “global common good” to describe the vaccines. However, by the end of the week, the

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European Union had imposed export controlson vaccines, giving countries the power to stop shots from leaving their borders in some cases.The long-held model in the pharmaceutical industry is that companies pour in huge amounts of money and research in return for the right to reap profits from their drugs and vaccines. At an industry forum last May, Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla described the idea of sharing IP rights widely as “nonsense” and even “dangerous.” AstraZeneca’s chief Pascal Soriot said that if intellectual property is not protected, “there is no incentive for anybody to innovate.”

Thomas Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, called the idea of lifting patent protections “a very bad signal to the future. You signal that if you have a pandemic, your patents are not worth anything.”

Advocates of sharing vaccine blueprints argue that, unlike with most drugs, taxpayers paid billions to develop vaccines that are now “global public goods” and should be used to end the biggest public health emergency in living memory.“People are literally dying because we cannot agree on intellectual property rights,” said Mustaqeem De Gama, a South African diplomat who has been deeply involved in the WTO discussions.

Paul Fehlner, the chief legal officer for biotech company Axcella and a supporter of the WHO patent pool board, said governments that poured billions of dollars into developing vaccines and treatments should have demanded more from the companies they were financing from the beginning.

“A condition of taking taxpayer money is not treating them as dupes,” he said.In a Feb. 3 interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading pandemic expert in the United States, said all options need to be on the table, including increasing aid, improving production capacity in the developing world and working with pharmaceutical companies to relax their patents.

“Rich countries, ourselves included, have a moral responsibility when you have a global outbreak like this,” Fauci said. “We’ve got to get the entire world vaccinated, not just our own country.”It’s hard to know exactlyhow much more vaccinecould be made worldwide if intellectual property restrictions were lifted, because the spare production capacity of factories has not been publicly shared. But Suhaib Siddiqi, former director of chemistry at Moderna, said that with the blueprint and technical advice, a modern factory should be able to get vaccine production going in at most three to four months.

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“In my opinion the vaccine belongs to the public,” said Siddiqi, who is still active in the field. “Any company which has experience synthesizing molecules should be able to do it.”Back in Bangladesh, the Incepta factory tried to get what it needed to make more vaccines in two ways, by offering its production lines to Moderna and by reaching out to a WHO partner. Moderna did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the Bangladesh plant, but its CEO, Stéphane Bancel, told European parliamentarians that the company’s engineers are fully occupied on expanding production in Europe.

“Doing more tech transfer right now could actually put the production and the increased output for the months to come at great risk,” he said. “We are very open to do it in the future once our current sites are running.”Muktadir said he was also in discussions last May with CEPI, or the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, one of WHO’s partners in a global effort to buy and distribute COVID-19 vaccines fairly, but nothing came of it. CEPI spokesman Tom Mooney said the talks last year with Incepta didn’t raise interest, but that CEPI is still in discussions “about matchmaking opportunities including the possibility of using Incepta’s capacity for second wave vaccines.”

Muktadir said he fully appreciates the extraordinary scientific achievement involved in the creation of vaccines this year, wants the rest of the world to be able to share in it, and is willing to pay a fair price.“Nobody should give their property just for nothing,” he said. “A vaccine could be made accessible to people — high quality, effective vaccines.”

___Cheng reported from Toronto. Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, Al-Emrun Garjon in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg, South Africa, contributed to this report. Read more: The Associated Press »

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During a pandemic. Those with the knowledge Ought to be sharing the knowledge. Ask Jonas Salk about The public good. Hoarding knowledge during a pandemic Is no better than price gouging In any disaster. We can all believe in capitalism... With a heart. Tell African government to invest in their health care

Good luck with that.