Coronavirus Crisis & Cure: Will Countries, Organizations And Institutes Collaborate, Or Patent Monopolies Are Going To Rule
With more than 737575 positive cases and 34,998 deaths around the globe, lethal COVID-19, known initially as novel coronavirus, is spreading like a wildfire across the world.
The pandemic causing fatal respiratory illness currently has no “silver bullet vaccine” or treatment, and authorities are primarily aiming at reducing the transmission level of this contagious disease via quarantines, social distancing, and self isolations. Though the lockdown approach has come out as an effective practice for flattening the curve of transmission, speculations are that it could have a staggering impact on the world’s economy.
With an everyday spike in the number of individuals infected with COVID-19 and the mayhem caused by it, the whole biotech and pharma community of scientists and researchers has stepped up and geared toward finding a cure for this contagious pandemic.
In the absence of a vaccine, health specialists around the world are treating symptoms of COVID-19 by using some older drugs like acetaminophen , chloroquine and
Further, Remdesivir, an intravenous, antiviral medicine that was initially developed to treat Ebola, is currently undergoing clinical trials in China and the United States. The drug has shown successful activity in vivo and in vitro in animal models against the viruses that cause MERS and SARS, which are coronaviruses showing structural similarity to SARS-CoV-2 (Virus that causes COVID-19 disease) and is waiting for approval.
Yet, finding a safe and efficient vaccine is the need of the hour, as it can provide long term immunity against the virus.
At present, more than 40 teams of researchers around the globe are diligently working in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine using enormously innovative vaccine technologies. An American biotech firm Moderna managed to make the vaccine in 63 days for COVID-19 using the genetic material of the virus’ genome, that, when injected, invoke an immune response in the individuals against the virus genome. The vaccine already moved into human trials by entering the bloodstream of 45 healthy individuals.
With all this rigorous research going around the world, this chaotic outbreak of COVID-19 has initiated a race among the world’s leading research communities and pharmaceutical companies, competing to be the first one in finding a cure for the pandemic and hoping to gain a Patent on an effective vaccine or a drug.
At the same time, many pharmaceutical giants are facing pressure from the critics around the world to drop their patents on cure and treatment on COVID-19. Benefactor fears that the patent monopoly of any sole pharma player can lead to the rise in the cost of vaccines and drugs and can also prevent other drug makers from creating a much cheaper generic version of the vaccine for the most vulnerable.
Medical organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is urging governments to suspend and remove patents for COVID-19 by issuing Compulsory Licensing to ensure sufficient supply of drugs, tests and vaccine for COVID-19 to the pandemic affected places at reasonable prices. As there is a relatively large number of persons in developing countries living below the poverty line for whom these drugs are high-priced. Therefore, generic drugs become the preferred alternatives as these are as effective and safe as branded drugs and also prescribed by the physicians. Naturally, at this time of global crisis, compulsory licensing of patents for COVID-19 treatment and production of cheaper versions of COVID-treatment in the form of Generic Drugs becomes very crucial.
Many companies have already taken this initiative; one of them is Abbott Laboratories, which already has approved a generic version of a patent-protected antiviral drug, Kaletra, for treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Now with compulsory licensing and generic drugs, the fear that spikes the most to the research community are cost cover-up, as Research and development of a vaccine or a drug cost billions of dollars. And Patents act as a powerful business tool enabling innovators to develop a strong market position and helps in earning lucrative revenues through exclusive sale manufacture and licensing.
One scenario that can be applied is research collaborations of pharma companies and institutes to work together in this exceptional global health emergency, as extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Research bodies can also work with both public and private funders for Research and development of the vaccine.
If we see in the past, Jonas Salk and his team developed a vaccine for polio in April 1955 using the nonprofit National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for running the trials needed to develop the vaccine. The announcement of the Polio vaccine sighed relief to millions of parents in America as the polio outbreak in 1916 caused thousands of American children dead and paralyzed. However, the vaccine was not patented, and when asked about who owns the patent for vaccine, Salk famously responded, “well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
But one can not negate from the fact that innovations are crucial for technological developments, and to promote such creations, patents are granted as an exclusive right to the inventors. In turn, the inventor discloses his complete invention that eventually helps in the distribution of knowledge to the public and also promotes and encourages a person skilled in the same art towards further Research and development.
With the whole world waiting for this magic vaccine, the question arises who is going to reach their first? Will people in third world countries get access to cure in the form of generic medicines? Will there be a patent? Or a Samaritan like Jonas Salk is going to make it available to the world.