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BIO: Where things stand with TRIPS waiver

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about what’s going on at the WTO. Here’s the latest news—and why the proposed waiver of vaccine IP is still a bad idea.

The status: The World Trade Organization is still considering a proposal backed by India and South Africa (and supported by the U.S.) to waive the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights for vaccine technology — though the WTO is on a six-week summer holiday until Sept. 6, per reports.

We’ll say it again: If IP rights are waived, we’ll compromise global vaccination efforts, says BIO President and CEO Michelle McMurry-Heath, M.D., Ph.D., in a new STAT News op-ed.

The waiver would make vaccines MORE expensive. The average cost of a new vaccine manufacturing facility is $700 million, McMurry-Heath said. Additionally, a waiver could cause competition for raw materials, leading to price increases of materials and, ultimately, vaccines.

But vaccines are already low-cost or free. India and South Africa are currently paying $8 and $5.25 per dose, respectively—lower than the annual flu shot in the U.S. ($14), for perspective. And COVAX is set to deliver 2 billion doses to countries that cannot afford to purchase them, with the U.S. set to donate 500 million more doses by the end of the summer.

Companies are set to manufacture enough doses in 2021 to fully vaccinate 70% of people worldwide, according to a recent Duke University study from its Global Health Innovation Center, as Hilary Stiss, BIO’s senior manager for international affairs, told us.

TRIPS would set a bad precedent with regards to IP protection, causing a ripple effect throughout the biotech sector in the U.S. “The innovation coming out of our 48 state affiliates and their member companies bolsters a robust economy across the country. We cannot afford to lose IP protections that advance these critical discoveries,” said Michele Oshman, BIO’s VP for external affairs and executive director of the Council of State Bioscience Associations.

The bottom line: “To be sure, the United States and other wealthy nations still need to give considerably more. But the fact remains that ramping up production in bona fide facilities and donating doses are the most straightforward steps to producing the vaccine doses needed to end the pandemic,” McMurry-Heath saod. “The effort to strip intellectual property rights, by contrast, would put success against the global scourge of COVID-19 even further out of reach.”