The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) has been conducting an investigation which could help inform the Biden administration’s position on expanding the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver to include COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics.This consideration follows an earlier decision to waive IP rights on COVID-19 vaccines.
Both President Biden and the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared an end to the COVID-19 public health emergency, so continued attempts to chip away at IP rights are perplexing. The debate whether to expand the TRIPS waiver is profoundly disconnected from the current landscape, where both vaccine and treatment supplies have far outpaced global demand.
Here’s why an expanded TRIPS waiver would do more harm than good:
- An expansion of the TRIPS waiver would jeopardize innovation and pandemic preparedness: Before the TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccines was even adopted, the pharmaceutical industry had already produced more than 14 billion vaccine doses and secured sufficient antiviral treatments, demonstrating robust capacity to meet global demand. Extending the TRIPS waiver would weaken the IP framework that has been instrumental in confronting COVID-19. This could have a chilling effect on the development of new treatments for other diseases and future health crises.
- Extending the TRIPS waiver would undermine the system that fueled rapid innovation in COVID-19 vaccines and treatments: IP rights have been a cornerstone in the rapidly development and scale of COVID-19 technologies globally. IP protections catalyzed research and development collaborations and fueled partnerships worldwide, including partnerships with the Medicines Patent Pool to deliver COVID-19 therapuetics to low-and-middle income countries. Extending the TRIPS waiver risks not only innovation but could also make treatments less accessible and more expensive.
- The TRIPS waiver does not address the real obstacles to COVID-19 therapeutic access: The claim that IP rights have been the main barrier to global access to COVID-19 treatments is untrue. Many low- and middle-income countries faced significant challenges related to COVID-19 infrastructure. Issues like inadequate storage and transportation, as well as trade barriers like tariffs and export restrictions, are the real obstacles. Diminishing IP rights through an expanded TRIPS waiver distracts from tackling the real challenges that stand in the way of global health care access.
Expanding the TRIPS waiver risks undermining the global IP system, diluting the very framework that accelerated pandemic solutions and distracts from addressing the real obstacles to access. As we await the USITC report, it's essential to keep focusing on the real barriers rather than compromising the proven innovation ecosystem.
Expanding the TRIPS waiver risks undermining the global IP system, diluting the very framework that accelerated pandemic solutions and distracts from addressing the real obstacles to access.