ZURICH (Reuters) – Thirty-seven countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) appealed on Friday for common ownership of vaccines, medicines and diagnostic tools to tackle the global coronavirus pandemic, taking aim at patent laws they fear could become a barrier to sharing crucial supplies.
While the push by mostly developing nations, called the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, won praise from groups including Doctors Without Borders, a drug industry alliance questioned if the effort to pool intellectual property would really broaden access to medicines.
Developing and some small nations fear rich countries pumping resources into finding vaccines – more than 100 are in development – will muscle their way to the front of the queue, once a candidate succeeds.
“Vaccines, tests, diagnostics, treatments and other key tools in the coronavirus response must be made universally available as global public goods,” said Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarado.
The effort, originally proposed in March, aims to provide a one-stop shop for scientific knowledge, data and intellectual property amid a pandemic that has infected more than 5.8 million people and killed more than 360,000.
The WHO issued a “Solidarity Call to Action”, asking other stakeholders to join the voluntary push.
“WHO recognises the important role that patents play in fuelling innovation but this is a time when people must take priority,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online news briefing.
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations raised concerns about undermining intellectual property protections, which the group said already enable collaboration and will also be needed after the pandemic is over.
“The ‘Solidarity Call to Action’ promotes a one-size-fits all model that disregards the specific circumstances of each situation, each product and each country,” the federation said.
Anna Marriott, health policy manager for anti-poverty group Oxfam, said the divide over how to handle patents illustrated how some regions could wind up losers.
“The pharmaceutical industry’s attempt to rubbish the World Health Organisation’s initiative suggests they care more for profits than people’s health,” she said.
(Reporting by Michael Shields and John Miller; Editing by Alison Williams and Frances Kerry)