By Ed Silverman
STAT, April 24, 2020
Led by the World Health Organization, a long list of countries, industry groups, and nongovernmental organizations committed to joining a project for developing and producing new drugs, vaccines, and tests for Covid-19 — and ensure worldwide access to the products.
The orchestrated move, which is being called the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, comes as the pandemic has infected more than 2.7 million people and claimed approximately 191,000 lives, sparking urgent calls for global cooperation in devising a medical response.
As part of the effort, a key goal is to level the global playing field so that any products will be available to rich and poor populations alike, a contentious issue that for many years has often pitted low-income countries against the pharmaceutical industry, in particular.
“The world needs these tools, and it needs them fast,” remarked WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a 90-minute presentation. “Past experience has taught us that even when tools are available, they have not been equally available to all. We cannot allow that to happen. … Our shared commitment is to ensure all people have access to all the tools to defeat Covid-19.”
Among those involved are France; Germany; the U.K.; Saudi Arabia; South Africa; Italy; Norway; Spain; Malaysia; the World Bank; the United Nations; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Unitaid; Wellcome Trust; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers.
Two economic powers, however, were notably absent from the proceedings: the U.S. and China. The Trump administration recently announced plans to end its funding to the WHO over allegations that the global health agency was too close to China.
It remains unclear about the extent to which the project will include a so-called voluntary pool to collect patent rights, regulatory test data, and other information that could be shared for developing drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics.
Such a pool is likely to be regarded warily by the pharmaceutical industry, given questions that may arise about the structure of the pool.
This is not the only effort to attempt to harness the abilities of the pharmaceutical industry to come to the rescue. Last week, the National Institutes of Health on Friday announced it would launch a sweeping public-private partnership between federal researchers and 16 drug makers, aimed at coordinating and accelerating the development of Covid-19 treatments and vaccines.
To be sure, the pharmaceutical industry is facing increased pressure. More than three dozen asset managers, pension funds, and insurers are urging the pharmaceutical industry to cooperate in the fight against Covid-19 by sharing research data and providing affordable worldwide access to medicines, diagnostics, and vaccines.
Although reactions to the accelerator project were largely positive, skepticism remains. For instance, Frederick Abbott, a professor of international law at Florida State University and a WHO consultant, believes the effort holds potential, but questions over patent rights, marketing exclusivity, and compensation for innovative work need to be addressed for the concept to succeed.
“A high-level framework is important,” according to Brook Baker, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law, “but the call for global solidarity must actually trump commercial prerogatives, nationalism, and demagogic egos.”
U.S. says will not take part in WHO global drugs, vaccine initiative launch
By Stephanie Nebehay
Reuters, April 25, 2020
The United States will not take part in the launching of a global initiative on Friday to speed the development, production and distribution of drugs and vaccines against COVID-19, a spokesman for the U.S. mission in Geneva told Reuters.
“There will be no U.S. official participation”, he said in an email reply to a query.
U.S. President Donald Trump has announced a suspension of funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), where it is the largest donor. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel helped launch the global initiative on Friday, the U.N. agency said.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
Talk about a time that we need to join together in international cooperation; we have a pandemic that has already caused over 200,000 deaths and economic disruption throughout the world. Shouldn’t the United States be stepping up to help out? At least some of us would think so. No. Instead, we walk, exercising “commercial prerogatives” and assuaging “demagogic egos.”
What kind of people have we become that we tolerate this?
It’s almost May 1.
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