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Intellectual Property Rights Are Vital To COVID-19 Research and Development

A recent report from the Geneva Network is highlighting the important role intellectual property (IP) has played throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, encouraging public-private partnerships, enabling global knowledge-sharing and promoting innovative collaboration. Although IP has proven to be the bedrock upon which today’s COVID-19 vaccines have been developed, critics continue to miscast IP as a roadblock to innovation. It is important for policymakers throughout Southeast Asia to recognize this mischaracterization and understand that IP has catalyzed investment and progress in biopharmaceutical research and development (R&D) since the beginning of the pandemic.

Far from being a barrier, IP is part of the solution. Here is a closer look at the critical role IP has played in the R&D of COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Geneva Network.

  • “At every step of drug development, IP rights play a crucial role, supporting early research, bringing treatments through clinical trials and getting them to patients. Each of these steps requires large investments of time, money and resources. IP rights support those investments by giving the opportunity of a return. They also create a basis for cooperation among organizations by encouraging trust.”
  • “The IP system encouraged the rapid establishment of dozens of partnerships around COVID-19, with even commercial rivals prepared to cooperate and share capital and proprietary intellectual resources such as compound libraries.”
  • “The existence of laws protecting IP helps rights-holders make the decision to collaborate in the first place. By allaying concerns about confidentiality, IP enables companies to open up their compound libraries, and to share platform technology and know-how without worrying they are going to sacrifice their wider business objectives or lose control of their valuable assets.”
  • “IP allows innovators to manage production scale-up by selecting and licensing technology to partners who have the skills and capacity to reliably manufacture large quantities of high-quality products, which they distribute at scale in low and middle-income countries. It would make no sense for IP owners to use it to withhold access, when they can profit from supplying all demand. IP licensing is the way this is done.”

There is no doubt that the IP system has expedited R&D innovation and enabled vaccines to be developed, tested and approved by regulators in record time. Although little was known about COVID-19 in January 2020, three safe and highly efficacious vaccines have since been authorized for emergency use by several regulatory authorities. In less than one year, there have been 1,052 COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostic tools in development globally. This major achievement is a testament to how well the IP system has works for both innovators and patients. Health and government officials throughout Southeast Asia must continue to strengthen IP protections so patients can reap the benefits of COVID-19 biopharmaceutical innovation.

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