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Expanding The TRIPS Waiver Could Hamper Medical Innovation

There’s an important political, philosophical, and policy battle brewing on the front lines of American healthcare, and my guess is very few Americans are tuned in to it. That’s understandable, considering the complexity of the issue and the number of various government agencies, advocates and organizations weighing in. This battle boils down to the competing interests of protecting intellectual property rights and preserving the type of advanced medical innovation that can produce cures and save lives.

Here’s the situation: The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) is soliciting public comment on the proposed expansion of a June 2022 agreement put forth by the Biden Administration and the World Trade Organization to protect intellectual property rights for medical companies who created vaccines and other treatments during the Covid pandemic. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights is known as TRIPS.

At issue is whether the proposed intellectual property rights protections will hamper crucial medial innovation. Many experts in the biomedical field agree that, indeed, medical advancements will be slowed if the TRIPS waiver is expanded.

Biopharmaceutical companies rely on secure intellectual property rights, including patents, which grant them the exclusive right to sell their products for a set period of time. These rights give companies a shot at recouping research-and-development expenses. Those expenses are daunting. It costs, on average, more than two billion dollars to bring a new drug to market, so patent protections are essential for keeping these companies solvent and working on new cures and remedies and the methods for getting them to patients in need.

In fact, there’s actually no real reason for an expanded IP waiver. Pharmaceutical companies have already signed more than 140 voluntary licensing and manufacturing agreements across 35 countries to increase global access to Covid-19 treatments, resulting in a global supply that greatly exceeds demand. As of last fall, governments and organizations had purchased 80 million courses of treatment but administered only 18 million.

Furthermore, an expanded TRIPS waiver would jeopardize IP-intensive jobs while giving foreign firms, including state-owned firms from adversarial countries like China and Russia, the opportunity to unfairly benefit from American inventions.

The USITC has been gathering comments as it weighs the TRIPS waiver expansion. Let’s hope that those who favor innovation and patient interests, and oppose the expansion, prevail.

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Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing