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Vaccine patent waiver breaks faith with American companies, stifles innovation

NCBIO is extremely disappointed that the Biden administration has chosen to support waiving critical intellectual property protections for U.S. COVID-19 vaccines. This decision, known as a TRIPS waiver, breaks faith with American innovators, punishes the ingenuity of our life sciences industry and will delay the equitable delivery of COVID vaccines to people around the globe.    

Giving countries in need a recipe for making a vaccine is not the same as providing them with vaccine. Production facilities, ingredients, safeguards, a trained workforce and a distribution system must all be in place before a single patient is injected. All of this can take months or years. 

Other world leaders know this IP waiver is a bad idea. German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes IP waivers for vaccines, saying they would create “severe complications” for production.  

“The limiting factor for the production of vaccines are manufacturing capacities and high quality standards, not the patents,” she told Bloomberg. “The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and this has to remain so in the future.” 

The president should follow through on his pledge to make the United States the world’s “arsenal of vaccines.”  This policy leads in the opposite direction. 

A better alternative would be the COVID Global Strategy for Harnessing Access Reaching Everyone Program proposed by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. The SHARE program would ensure sufficient global supply of and access to vaccines and strengthen and support health care systems in low-and middle-income countries in addressing COVID. It would accomplish these goals without compromising protections for intellectual property or further stretching limited global vaccine expertise to the breaking point. 

We agree with Sen. Richard Burr and Sen. Thom Tillis who oppose the TRIPS waiver. Burr said in a statement, “The partnerships developing and manufacturing the COVID-19 vaccines have been one of the biggest scientific success stories in generations – one that’s already impacting other areas of medical research. Intellectual property protections are part of the reason we have these life-saving products; stripping these protections only ensures we won’t have the vaccines or treatments we need when the next pandemic occurs.” 

These hits to the innovation behind vaccines could easily extend to all areas of the U.S. innovation economy. Intellectual property protections are the lifeblood of the life science industry and the same could be said for other technologies where U.S. innovation is key. North Carolina, home to many innovative early stage and biopharmaceutical manufacturing companies could see a particularly severe impact. 

We urge the president to protect American companies from the coerced transfer of technology by foreign governments, avoid any precedents that would work to undermine incentives to develop vaccines and treatments in future pandemics and avoid setting a precedent that undermines the entire US innovation economy.