The issue of COVID-19 vaccine access in developing nations has thrust intellectual property (IP) into global headlines. Against the backdrop of heated arguments both for and against an IP waiver for COVID-related products, the global pharma industry has launched a new initiative on IP, asserting its crucial importance to continued innovation and, ultimately, health outcomes. Here, Andrew Jenner of INTERPAT – the organisation behind the IP PACT – unpacks what he sees as misunderstandings around the role of IP, the innovative pharma industry’s openness to continued dialogue on the issue, and why the IP Pact is not the final destination, but the continuation of a longer journey.
IP must result in patient and societal benefit. We agree. This is why over 25 companies launched a ground-breaking initiative called IP PACT (IP Principles for Advancing Cures and Therapies) through INTERPAT, a pharmaceutical industry organisation focusing on international patent and other intellectual property (IP) matters and issues. Its ten principles demonstrate the unified commitment to improving people’s health outcomes through innovation and explains how IP is used in practice from start to finish.
What IP has done in the past and continues doing is push the boundaries of innovation so that we can overcome new health challenges and better address existing ones
Over the decades, IP has enabled medical and scientific innovations that have brought immense benefits to patients and people in all countries, enabling people to live longer and healthier lives. But it is true that the role of IP is often misunderstood and perceived to be a hurdle to access that needs to be overcome. This is far from the truth. In fact, what IP has done in the past and continues doing is push the boundaries of innovation so that we can overcome new health challenges and better address existing ones. It is undisputed, for example, that the introduction of IP incentives and rewards led to more products to treat unmet medical needs of rare disease patients or that countries with better IP protections attract more interest for clinical trials.
Principles and progress
If IP is at the heart of innovation, driving efforts to benefit society as a whole, and individual patients, then this IP PACT and its ten principles enshrine that overarching goal. The principles are intended to promote trust and collaboration, both among innovators and across the gamut of stakeholders – public health authorities, global health bodies, academic researchers/scientists, private firms as well as patient groups.
The signatories do not, for example, stand up for any patent system but, rather, one that promotes progress through quality patents – protecting and respecting genuine innovation.
IP is also the oil in the machine of collaboration, it enables innovators to be confident they can share details of their breakthrough research and development with others. It provides shared understanding between parties through which the all-important know-how and expertise can be imparted in a climate of trust. For instance, IP owners/users are active in initiatives such as WIPO Re:Search, a public-private consortium, that has presided over 150 collaborations in advancing the science on NTDs, tuberculosis and malaria. The current ACT-Accelerator is a classic example of this.
The Principles also underscore the importance of accessible patent information to help facilitate follow-on innovation or assist with procurement for patient access. The Pat-INFORMED initiative, with the World IP Office (WIPO), achieves this access and is an excellent example of what can be done when we work together.
Pharmaceutical companies also have demonstrated their commitment to sharing the fruits of their innovative research by, for example, endorsing voluntary licensing, not least for low- income countries that can be badly affected by socio-economic challenges, including under-developed healthcare systems. The recent COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example. In unparalleled record time, vaccine developers have created not just one, but many safe and highly effective vaccines – in just 326 days. At the same time, when we are all eager to get the vaccines to everybody (we know that no one is safe until everyone is safe) we tend to forget the daunting challenge of scaling up manufacturing. Vaccine companies are engaging in unprecedented partnerships – the number to date is around 270 – and these continue to grow, with more than 200 of them involving technology transfer. This is living principle 9 of IP PACT.
This is not just about licensing IP. It is about sharing know-how, building trust, joint training of skilled workers and access to the right raw materials. Vaccine production is highly complex and if it goes wrong, then we harm the very people we are trying to protect
This is not just about licensing IP. It is about sharing know-how, building trust, joint training of skilled workers and access to the right raw materials. Vaccine production is highly complex and if it goes wrong, then we harm the very people we are trying to protect. We must get it right as we are injecting people who are not sick from the disease and who rightly demand the highest standards of quality and safety. The proposed WTO IP waiver is a solution looking for a problem and the reasons have been explained. See, for example, the overview provided by the Max Planck Institute or, for a more technical analysis, ChemistryWorld offers good insights.
We very much look forward to using these principles as a platform for dialogues with patient groups and society, as well as policymakers. We firmly believe that the patent system has delivered a massive benefit to both patients and society and that we used it effectively and responsibly. But we are keen for feedback and dialogue and stand ready to work together in addressing any specific problems and challenges.
This is ground-breaking because we have our guiding principles laid out for all to see. But the real success comes when we work together, bringing our collective expertise and experience in addressing health challenges of today and tomorrow, so that all patients can benefit. The IP PACT and its principles is not the destination. It is the continuing of a journey.