TOKYO >> An initiative proposed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to share production methods of vaccines and therapeutic drugs to cope with COVID-19 worldwide, under the framework of a patent pool.
International organizations will serve as mediators to pharmaceutical companies with vaccine patents to pave the way for mass production of vaccines at affordable prices.
This would enable vaccine makers in developing countries to share in methods of producing vaccines.
The Japanese government hopes the initiative will help contain the spread of infections across the globe — and help ensure the opening of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in summer 2021.
During normal times, pharmaceutical companies patent new drugs they develop and produce and sell the medications exclusively for a designated time. Other makers seeking to produce the new drugs must sign licensing contracts and pay royalty fees.
Since a number of major pharmaceutical companies have made large investments in developing a COVID-19 vaccine, there is concern that prices and royalty fees will be too high to make the vaccine readily available in developing countries.
Under the patent pool initiative, the global organizations would manage and protect the patents, and serve as mediators as drugmakers negotiate licensing contracts.
These arrangements have already been used in the production of drugs for AIDS and tuberculosis, with the international group Unitaid serving as mediator. The group’s primary focus is helping developing countries get greater access to medical supplies. The organization could likely be involved in the coronavirus patent pool initiative.
Some in the Japanese government have suggested that G7 countries could help shoulder some of the patent royalties.
But there are hurdles to clear. If royalty fees are capped too low, major drugmakers could be reluctant to participate in the initiative. There is also uncertainty over whether their counterparts in developing nations have the capability to produce vaccines and medication.