A temporary waiver on the TRIPS agreement is a bad idea, Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine developer Dr. Ozlem Tureci said after the Biden administration announced a major decision to support it.
What is the TRIPS agreement: The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is an international legal agreement between all the member nations of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Here's some background: At a WTO meeting last year, India and South Africa proposed a temporarily suspension of intellectual property rights in an effort to boost production of Covid-19 vaccines and medicines for low-income nations. It was backed by over 80 developing countries. A temporary ban would allow multiple actors to start production sooner, instead of having manufacturing concentrated in the hands of a small number of patent holders, the Lancet reported.
But richer countries, including Britain, Switzerland, EU nations and the US, blocked it, arguing that protecting the IP would encourage research and innovation, while suspending the IP would not result in a sudden surge of vaccine supply.
That is also what BioNTech's co-founder and chief medical officer Dr. Tureci argued.
"Patents are not the limiting factor for the production of, for example, our vaccine," Dr. Tureci told CNN. "There are a number of important factors in producing vaccines. For example, our manufacturing process involves more than 50,000 steps, all of which have to be executed accurately in order to ensure the efficacy and safety of vaccine. It takes experienced personnel, it takes specialized facilities, it takes access to raw materials."
Instead, it's more important to ensure legal, administrative and organizational solutions for vaccine manufacturers, she said.
A patent waiver "will not increase the number of doses we will have available within the next 12 months. It will probably act towards increasing chaos in production," she added.
US President Joe Biden as a candidate promised to support such waivers, but had been under pressure from pharmaceutical companies to keep them in place.
Officials have been clear that the President's decision to support this waiver is a preliminary step and will not guarantee the global patent rules are lifted right away.