The creation of the COVID-19 vaccines involved unprecedented collaboration between public and private entities – one that I have never seen in my 20-plus year career. It’s a true testament to the strength of our nation’s life sciences research and development community and the lengths they will go to ensure we’re prioritizing our global health needs.
IP was critical for the international partnerships that produce over a billion doses a month of vaccines. What’s more, it will be central to securing sufficient capital and advancement of competitive products for any future pandemics.
I can confidently say this because of the fundamental purpose of IP, which allows knowledge to be converted into a business asset. Biopharmaceutical investors rely on these strong patent protections to justify a specific venture.
This is where patent waivers become troublesome. Anything that impacts patent protection will be a key element in valuing or devaluing the investment.
Proponents of COVID vaccine patent waivers argue this action would not hinder future pharma investment, as it would be an isolated case in the service of ending the pandemic. Yet, this is not the first time governing bodies have attempted similar efforts that could inadvertently thwart future innovation.
In fact, currently, a group of civil society activists are trying to undermine the Bayh-Dole Act – a landmark piece of legislation that catapulted our nation to the forefront of biopharmaceutical development. Enacted in 1980, Bayh-Dole allows universities and research institutes to license IP rights to private actors with the expertise and capacity to develop and commercialize those technologies. Hundreds of drugs and therapies have been successfully brought to market and millions of jobs have been created in the U.S. because of this legislation
Despite its overwhelming success, activists have been petitioning the use of a provision known as “march-in rights” as a means for the government to relicense patent rights on the theory it could produce cheaper knockoffs; something outside of the scope of the law. Congress’s original goal in creating such rights was to allow for government intervention if a private entity failed to successfully commercialize the funded technology. Since the enactment of Bayh-Dole, zero cases for march-in have been determined by the NIH to meet the necessary criteria, including the 10 cases brought forward because critics didn’t like the price of a product.
We’ve built a system of innovation in our country that’s unmatched, and much of that success can be attributed to the systems in place that allow for creativity and ingenuity to thrive. Undermining that process with quick-fix approaches sets a precedent that is too toxic to overlook. Without an incentive to create lifesaving medications, therapies, vaccines and technologies, our nation will lose that momentum we’ve worked for decades to build.
What will the next pandemic look like if we lack the investment and infrastructure to develop the vaccine that will stop it? What good is a cheaper drug price if the drug doesn’t exist in the first place?
I urge our legislators to give serious thought to the implications this decision will have on our nation’s economy. It may be irreversible — and certainly costly.