To the Editor: Gleeson and colleagues1 are right2 that we need to see action to prevent the inequity we saw in access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) pandemic. As the international community rebuilds a global health architecture that is fit to respond to future pandemics, addressing equity must be central. Last year, pharmaceutical companies tabled practical proposals to ensure that no‐one is left behind, which was supported by the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers Network (DCVMN) and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO).3
As we address the equity challenge, we must not lose sight of the innovation delivered in response to COVID‐19, with pharmaceutical companies producing billions of safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics at a speed very few thought possible. This was facilitated by a strong innovation ecosystem, which provides a framework to manage the risks and cost involved in pursuing new medicines and vaccines. Of the 23 mRNA vaccines that went to clinical trials, only two were successful.4 The intellectual property (IP) framework is core to this ecosystem.
Contrary to acting as a barrier to equitable roll out, IP enabled companies to partner on a voluntary basis. The latest data5 show that over two‐thirds of the 374 manufacturing and supply chain announcements for COVID‐19 vaccines have involved a collaboration — voluntary licensing partnerships, technology transfers and contract manufacturing agreements — between licensors and licensees,6 and of the 84 active voluntary licensing agreements for COVID‐19 treatments, 80 are in low income countries.
We must focus on the multilateral and regional policies needed, including regulatory harmonisation, supply chain and health care system strengthening, and the removal of trade barriers. Rather than address the root causes of inequitable access, we believe an intellectual property waiver would undermine the very system that delivered billions of safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics against COVID‐19, and which will be central to our response to any future pandemics.
- 1. Gleeson D, Scheibner J, Nicol D. Proposals to waive intellectual property rights for pandemic response products in the World Health Organization pandemic accord need Australia's support. Med J Aust 2023; 219: 46‐48. https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2023/219/2/proposals‐waive‐intellectual‐property‐rights‐pandemic‐response‐products‐world
- 2. International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations. Five steps to urgently advance COVID‐19 vaccine equity [news release]. 19 May 2021. https://www.ifpma.org/wp‐content/uploads/2023/01/i2023_News‐Release‐Five‐steps‐to‐urgently‐advance‐COVID‐19‐vaccine‐equity‐19‐May‐2021.pdf (viewed Sept 2023).
- 3. Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers’ Network, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations. Biotechs, developing countries vaccine manufacturers and pharma unite behind a proposal to G20 and G7 offering a practical solution for better access to vaccines for future pandemics [news release]. 24 October 2022 https://www.ifpma.org/news/biotechs‐developing‐countries‐vaccine‐manufacturers‐and‐pharma‐unite‐behind‐a‐proposal‐to‐g20‐and‐g7‐offering‐a‐practical‐solution‐for‐better‐access‐to‐vaccines‐for‐future‐pandemics/ (viewed Sept 2023).
- 4. Szabó GT, Mahiny AJ, Vlatkovic I. COVID‐19 mRNA vaccines: platforms and current developments. Mol Ther 2022; 30: 1850‐1868.
- 5. Airfinity. How different partnership models supported the response against COVID‐19. Airfinity, 2023. https://www.ifpma.org/wp‐content/uploads/2023/05/Airfinity_IFPMA_C19TxVx_20230607.pdf (viewed Sept 2023).
- 6. International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations. First‐of‐its‐kind event brings together 10 companies that partnered to deliver vaccines and treatments in response to COVID‐19 [statement]. Geneva: IFPMA, 2023. https://www.ifpma.org/news/first‐of‐its‐kind‐event‐brings‐together‐10‐companies‐that‐partnered‐to‐deliver‐vaccines‐and‐treatments‐in‐response‐to‐covid‐19/
Publication of your online response is subject to the Medical Journal of Australia's editorial discretion. You will be notified by email within five working days should your response be accepted.