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What They Are Saying: IP Protections Critical to Combatting COVID-19 in Southeast Asia

The global biopharmaceutical industry relies on strong intellectual property (IP) rights to promote the development of breakthrough treatments and cures for patients. Innovation, underpinned by reliable IP protections, is now more important than ever as the private sector works around the clock to develop solutions to help prevent infection and treat patients with COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus. In fact, several existing and investigational medicines are being tested to combat COVID-19 because of IP and other R&D incentives.

Here is a closer look at recent comments highlighting the importance of IP protections to help fuel discovery efforts for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines that could benefit people across Southeast Asia:

  • “The cornerstone of innovation is the [IP] system which is working well in the pandemic. IP rights have facilitated cooperation and the sharing of proprietary data, know-how and technology between different and often competing organizations, both locally and internationally… There is no evidence that IP rights will pose a barrier to access. Already, life sciences companies are searching their patent and molecular reference libraries for promising compounds. Most companies working in this area have already stated any new products will be available on a non-profit basis… Any measure that undermines IP rights, jeopardizes innovation which is the lifeblood of global research and development of medicines.” CodeBlue
  •  “Dr. Gurry expounded, there does not appear to be any evidence that IP has been a barrier to access to vaccines, treatments or cures… This is not the time to undermine the IP system. The incentive framework which underpins the system is still relevant and is particularly necessary for companies that undertake costly and risky investments involved in the search for the Covid-19 vaccine. This would not be possible if a thriving innovation ecosystem built on strong IP incentives were absent.” – Tan Tee Jim, senior counsel with an active practice in intellectual property, in The Straits Times
  •  “Now, of all times, is not the moment to undermine IP… Patents, and IP more generally, are the main reason that there is such a strong innovation base to work from to find solutions. Today there are more than 1,000 clinical trials ongoing, over 150 treatments being tested, and more than 120 vaccine projects. There is no guarantee of success as few treatments and even fewer vaccines may prove to be safe and effective. This level of risk-taking would be impossible without a flourishing innovation ecosystem built on strong IP incentives.” – Thomas B. Cueni, Director General of International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, in Financial Times
  •  “The existence of IP rights has enabled a rapid response to COVID-19 by the private sector. Companies are looking afresh at old drugs in their patent portfolios that never made it. Others are investigating repurposing existing medicines for other diseases. Short term, they offer the best hope of an effective COVID-19 treatment. IP rights have not stood in the way so far… But removing IP rights will only inject uncertainty into an already difficult picture.” – Mark Schultz, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company Chair in Intellectual Property Law, University of Akron School of Law and Philip Stevens, Executive Director of the Geneva Network, in Business World

Reliable IP protections are vital to Southeast Asia’s growing innovation ecosystem and ultimately defeating COVID-19. Government officials throughout the region should heed the direction provided in these comments and protect the IP of new discoveries to encourage local innovation and help meet the needs of patients who rely on lifesaving therapies, like those in development to treat COVID-19.

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