March 27, 2020 | Access to Medicines


With Access to Life-Saving COVID-19 Medicines and Diagnostics at Risk, Health GAP Joins the Call for Creation of Emergency Technology IP Pool Benefiting All Countries

Jessica Bassett: 518 593 7628|

As the world races to develop treatments, a vaccine, and improved diagnostics for COVID-19, there are mounting concerns that life-saving medical technologies will be priced out of reach for millions worldwide, particularly those in countries where health systems have been starved of funding. Actions that governments take now are quite literally matters of life and death. They will determine whether life-saving products are guaranteed to be affordable and accessible immediately for millions of people around the world, or whether they will repeat deadly missteps from other pandemics, delivering monopolies to profiteering pharmaceutical companies that result in price gouging and preventable deaths because scientific advances are kept out of reach of communities in need.

“We reject moves by any company to seek monopolies on COVID-19 related medical technologies, and we call for all governments to step up and put public health first,” said Asia Russell, Executive Director of Health GAP.

In a new paper, Health GAP strongly supports Costa Rica’s request for an emergency COVID-19 Technology Intellectual Property Pool (TIPP) for all countries because open science leads to quicker and better outcomes for people around the world. Written by Brook K. Baker, Health GAP Senior Policy Analyst and Professor at Northeastern University School of Law, with inputs from Charles Clift, Ellen ‘t Hoen, James Love, and others, the paper lays out the rationale for such a pool in addressing the COVID-19 global public health emergency. The paper is available online and as a pdf download.

Health GAP joins others in calling for:

  • the creation of a “COVID-19 IP Technology Pool,”
  • that public and charitable funders immediately insert open-science and open licensing provisions in their research agreements,
  • and that intellectual property (IP) rights holders immediately commit to placing their COVID-19-related IP and data rights into the Pool as soon as it is established.

Prof. Baker said: “The most irresponsible barrier in the middle of a global pandemic threatening millions of lives are government-granted monopolies to Big Pharma and Big Medical Device/Testing companies. These intellectual property monopolies not only impede open science needed to accelerate medical discoveries of new tests, therapies, vaccines, and medical devices but they also limit production to single suppliers who can in no sense meet urgent global demand and who might price gouge and prioritize supply to rich and powerful countries. We need to urgently pool medical technology intellectual property rights to allow mobilization of our best scientific efforts and to use all available global manufacturing capacity to speed medical supplies across the globe.”

Recent IP-related Developments:   

  • On March 20, Costa Rica formally requested that the World Health Organization (WHO) create a technology pool that would amass all intellectual property rights and data rights relating to COVID-19 research and to investigational and approved products and thereafter allow open licenses for manufacturing and sale. Pooling rights would make it possible for additional producers to greatly accelerate access to new diagnostics, medicines, vaccines, and medical devices.
  • On March 21, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved pharmaceutical giant Gilead’s request for orphan drug designation for remdisivir, giving the company a 7-year marketing exclusivity and prime pricing power on the grounds that it was to be used for a rare disease, despite the fact that COVID-19 is widespread and no incentives are needed for drug companies to enter the arena to develop treatments. Under mounting public pressure, Gilead on Wednesday rescinded the orphan drug designation, but Gilead still retains multiple monopolies that will impede affordable access to remdisivir.
  • The same day, Germany and Canada took steps to overhaul their laws governing intellectual property in order to make it easier to obtain compulsory licenses for COVID-19 related medicines and medical devices.  Other countries, including Chile and Ecuador, have also taken preliminary parliamentary steps to initiate compulsory licenses on needed COVID-19. Additional countries are reported to be doing the same.
  • On March 23, in response to a compulsory license issued by Israel, AbbVie agreed not to assert its patentson lopinavir/ritonavir, medicines that have been studied as COVID-19 treatment, and to expand its existing access license with the Medicines Patent Pool.
  • Meanwhile, Cepheid announced the development of a new COVID-19 test that can be used on its proprietary platforms, but is charging $20 per test, despite production costs as low as $3. As a result, MSF and other activists are demanding that the test be made available for $5.
  • The Spanish government temporarily nationalized capacity from private health facilities and providers last week and took measures giving the government increased authority to coordinate the country’s healthcare equipment and pharmaceutical supply chain for its COVID-19 response.

Asia Russell continued: “The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light on the avarice implicit in current, disastrously broken models of intellectual property and technology rights protection. We will not remedy this crisis or ensure access for all unless we flip the calculus and put people’s lives ahead of corporate profits.”