The role of intellectual property rights in preparing for future pandemics

March 9, 2022
  • Even though IP has played a crucial role in developing and manufacturing vaccines for the current pandemic, some are calling for IP to be waived to facilitate preparations for future pandemics.
  • This would be a mistake. In the current pandemic, IP has been central to R&D collaboration and scaling up manufacturing through often international partnerships which span every part of the vaccine value chain.
  • IP is also fundamental to the ongoing innovation in manufacturing processes that has allowed global vaccine manufacturing capacity to increase multi-fold in a short period of time, producing many billions of doses.
  • Waiving IP for future pandemics would disrupt these processes and leave the world reliant on open source or IP-free models of vaccine development and manufacture. Current experience with such models is not promising: they have either been extremely slow to progress through development, or have failed to mobilise sufficient capital to progress at all.
  • It is not clear that the goal of appropriating IP to develop self-sufficiency in vaccine manufacturing is a sensible prioritisation of resources. A similar thing was attempted in scaling up ARV production in Africa in the 2000s, often using compulsory licenses. Such attempts failed because the resulting products were uncompetitive with those available on global markets. Other challenges include unreliable infrastructure s electricity, water, and roads, in addition to under-resourced regulators that do not have the capacity to oversee high-tech vaccine manufacturing.
  • Rather than waiving IP, a more sensible approach to future pandemics is for governments to focus on supply-side approaches such as funding basic research; instituting advance market commitments; addressing trade barriers; and improving distribution capabilities.
  • The protection and strengthening the R&D environment, including the robust protection of IP rights, should be at the heart of future pandemic planning to ensure the development of multiple vaccine and therapeutic options.