US COVID Vaccine Patent Waiver Is Big, Symbolic Blow For Pharma, But The Fight Is Just Beginning
Drug manufacturers still have a variety of ways to limit the impact of the Biden administration’s historic decision. Whether the huge political loss for industry translates into more than just headline-risk or faster global COVID vaccination remains to be seen. It's also not clear whether it’s an ominous sign for other industry battles in the US, including the drug pricing debate.
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Proposed agreement limits waiver of certain patent rights to COVID-19 vaccines with potential to extend to COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics. India, South Africa, US and EU have agreed to the compromise but whether it becomes final depends on other WTO member countries.
The formulas for various COVID-19 vaccines remain shrouded in intellectual property protections – one of many factors preventing them from being manufactured in developing nations. Those in favor of upholding IP say that scrapping patents could stifle future innovation, but their opponents believe preserving COVID-19 related IP rights is limiting access to lifesaving medical tools.
Intellectual property became front page news in 2021 as the pandemic ignited a debate on the role of patents in accessing COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. 2022 will see a decision on the TRIPS waiver, a new USPTO director, and action on a pending march-in petition.