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International Panel on the Role of Intellectual Property in Pandemic Preparedness 

The COVID-19 pandemic led researchers, government leaders and biopharmaceutical companies across the globe to collaborate at unprecedented levels to discover and deliver solutions for patients. Intellectual property has been the foundation for establishing hundreds of new partnerships since the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to innovative solutions that are helping millions of patients.

In March, a panel convened by the Geneva Network, an international think tank, met virtually to discuss how key stakeholders can utilize IP, investment, technology transfers and innovation to navigate the current pandemic and prepare the world for future ones.

“The main role of IP in general is to give partnerships something to agree on, a right to transfer knowledge and something to put funding around to develop in countries that need to start or continue their own manufacturing,” said Mark Schultz, Professor of Intellectual Property Law and Co-Founder of the Center for IP x Innovation Policy.

COVID-19 has accelerated technology transfer partnerships across the globe—there are more than 300 voluntary collaborations to support manufacturing. Fostering continued international collaboration and technology transfer is imperative to prepare for the next pandemic. Initiating technology transfers from large biopharmaceutical companies to local manufacturing facilities is a large undertaking, requiring sizable investments to convene experts, introduce new scientific methods, train staff and secure supply of key ingredients.

“We documented many dozens of partnerships around the world for both main manufacturing and fill-and finish manufacturing,” said Schultz. “Some of these agreements were with some of these leading biopharma companies’ main competitors. How did they have the confidence to teach their biggest competitors how to make the vaccine? They relied on their IP rights.”

Vaccine production is expected to surpass 24 billion doses by mid-2022. The solution to distributing vaccines globally at this point of the pandemic resides in overcoming last-mile challenges, harmonizing supply chains and continuing to scale up voluntary partnerships.

A proposal to waive obligations to protect COVID-19 vaccine IP has been at the center of global trade debate in recent months. However, the IP system enabled the rapid response by scientists, innovators and biopharmaceutical companies to research, develop, manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccines and treatments at record speeds. These IP rights have continued to incentivize innovative companies to enter into more voluntary partnerships to bring patient solutions to everyone, everywhere. Moreover, the proposed IP waiver would not actually address the true barriers to vaccine equity.

“In Africa, it’s not more about an IP waiver, it’s more about know-how and having the capacity to be able to produce and develop the vaccines,” said Simon Agwale, African Vaccine Manufacturing initiative and CEO of Innovative BioTech Ltd. “If you have the capacity to produce the vaccines, manufacturers would be willing and very happy to transfer the technology, so it becomes a win-win situation.”

Shankar Singham, CEO of Competere and Chairman of Global Economic Neural Networks, spoke to the importance of protecting the innovation ecosystem that created COVID-19 treatments for future pandemics. “You need to activate private/public partnerships here. You need to activate the private sector for some of this funding and it simply won’t happen if the entire ecosystem of trust based on the protection of property has been undermined.”

Watch a recording of the full discussion here.



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