Pharma’s alleged “breakthrough” position at Pandemic Treaty Negotiations is a sham

March 22, 2024 |

There were two stories on March 21, one from Geneva Health Files and another from Health Policy Watch, about a pharma “warming up” or “pivoting” in Pandemic Treaty negotiations, but in reality there is really only a pseudo publicity stunt. Pharma, via its international trade association, IFPMA and its spokesperson Thomas Cueni, at best promise what is better characterized as “the same old.”

Pharma’s position is hardly a breakthrough. Throughout the Pandemic Agreement negotiations, Big Pharma has been intent on gaining unfettered, instantaneous access to pathogens and their genomic sequences and having freedom to exploit those resources to create IP-protected barricades around pandemic-related health technologies.

Although Thomas Cueni can rhetorically tout the virtues of and need for expanded access, what he can’t offer are any actual Pharma commitments other than those voluntarily undertaken by individual companies contractually, drawing from a narrow and incomplete list of access to medicines priorities. No real promises of licensing and technology transfer to regionally distributed and independent producers. No real transparency on R&D investments and targets, clinical trials results/data, costs-of-goods, manufacturing capacity, pricing, purchase agreements, patent and registration landscapes, etc. In fact, most of that information will be treated as confidential and trade-secret-protected and/or subject to nondisclosure agreements.

Cueni insists on being at the Pandemic Treaty bargaining table as if he hasn’t been in the kitchen with rich countries the whole time. Industry is probably chaffing that the current negotiation text dropped repetitive language requiring only “voluntary measures on mutually agreed terms,” but it continues to espouse such voluntarism and to condemn any mandatory industry obligations – “sales taxes” (financial benefit sharing) or otherwise. Pharma volunteers unspecified, set-aside supplies for cold cash so long as indemnification is provided and/or unilaterally determined tiered pricing. It volunteers tech transfer, but realistically only to its favored contract manufacturers. 

In other words, Pharma and its figureheads promise exactly the same thing they offered during the COVID-19 pandemic—to disastrous effect: hegemony over quantity, price, and distribution, mammoth profits, and a modicum of belated charity.