A few critical comments on this new paper by @mercuriobryan on IP & COVID-19 vaccines/treatments. This is, I think, the first major academic paper that argues against the India/SA TRIPS WTO waiver so it deserves attention.
1) The paper accepts here that the TRIPS IP waiver may accelerate distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the short term, but is concerned that the waiver could undermine the IP system’s incentives for R&D. What does ‘short term’ mean here?
2) The paper seems to downplay the ‘short term’ risk to developing countries by noting that Covax will begin providing 2billion doses to developing countries in the first half of 2021.
3) While technically true it belies the fact that only a tiny amount of doses will be shared in 2021. The Economist reports that mass vaccination will be ‘2023, if it happens at all’. The current system, of which IP is an integral part, is set to fail developing countries.
4) On pricing the paper notes the ‘unquestionably reasonable’ prices being charged by Pharma, quoting the EU-agreed prices. However, we know South Africa is being charged 2.5 x EU price by Astra Zeneca (as reported by The Guardian). Pricing is likely to lead to global inequities.
5) Worth noting that Price Transparency is vital to ensure developing countries are not ‘priced out’ - we only have a misplaced Tweet by Eva De Bleeker to thank for what we know of the EU prices. That’s not acceptable.
6) In my view the paper under-states the risks of the current pandemic/crisis and over-states the risk to the overall IP system from the limited COVID-focused IP waiver proposed by a India/SA.
7) Much COVID-19 R&D has effectively been de-risked by public funds. In the case of Oxford/AZ the key invention was made at a public institution. Not clear we are in a ‘normal’ incentive/reward situation.
8) I am thus unconvinced by the argument that the Covid-limited TRIPS IP waiver will de-incentivise R&D in all other areas of science/tech (where IP protections remain unaffected). Furthermore, the ‘short term’ risk to developing countries of the status quo continuing is enormous
9) Moreover, the paper notes that TRIPS flexibilities have been useful tools used by developing countries to force pharma companies to lower prices
10) This idea of the useful ‘tool’ points to an important aspect of the India-SA proposal: it is not just legal but political. It has been publicised globally. It has been relevant to recent political and economic negotiations between the key parties (governments, pharma).
11) When India-SA made their proposal in Autumn 2020 the US/EU/UK still assumed each private patent-holding company (Pfizer, AZ, etc) would be able to produce sufficient supply/doses. This has proven mistaken (as the EU has discovered to its cost).
12) Now even Macron accepts IP rules may be playing a role in the lack of productive capacity/vaccine scarcity. In late 2020 & early 2021 there has been much more cooperation between different Pharma companies to assist each other in boosting production. Good, more required.
13) The threat provided by the proposed IP waiver has likely played a crucial role here.

Private actors can be spurred to work together & share know-how by the greater risk of losing their monopolies.

You might even call it an ‘incentive’.
14) KEI hosted a round table last week on all these issues featuring the EU/UK govts, the WHO and many experts on capacity-building. Full video here:

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