COVID-19 IP waivers could lead to global pharma patent changes

Generics/General | Posted 11/06/2021 post-comment0 Post your comment

At the Nikkei Future of Asia conference in Tokyo on 20 May 2021, Malaysian Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that he believes Asia should lead in opening-up patent protections to produce generic versions of life-saving medicines. 

Intellectual Property V13E17

This statement came in response to US President Joe Biden's administration's intention to support the temporary waiver of intellectual property (IP) protection for COVID-19 vaccines. If enacted, this move will remove vaccine production monopolies and enable generics manufacturers to produce approved vaccines. This will greatly improve international access to the vaccines and could facilitate a total transformation of the pharmaceutical patent system.

In his video address at the conference, Prime Minister Muhyiddin said that this moves away from individual patent rights for innovations including drugs, vaccines and medical devices would be in keeping with the United Nations (UN) Article 25(1) of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In their place, a system of global property rights could be created instead. This could increase global access to many of life-saving medicines for critical diseases, from COVID-19 to HIV/AIDS.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin highlighted aspects of imbalance in the current fight against COVID -19. He noted that the wealthiest 27 countries, with just 10.5% of the global population, have 35.5% of vaccines. When it comes to production, India and China have exported over 250 million vaccine doses, in India, the amount exported is almost 50% per cent of the total production. However, in combination, the UK and the US have exported less than 1 million vaccine doses, in the UK this is just over 1% of total vaccine production.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin noted that it is unrealistic to expect nations not to be self-interested but highlighted that many of the failures to address the COVID-19 pandemic were due to tribalism, dysfunctional competition and short-term thinking.

To assist such a transformation, and for Asia to effectively prevent and fight pandemics, Prime Minister Muhyiddin suggested that it will need to move away from its current nationalistic approach to health services and towards investing in health as a global public good.

In Prime Minister Muhyiddin’s address, he concluded that in the post- COVID-19 era, he hopes Asian powers can work together to gain global credibility and trust to facilitate a position of leadership and strength. This will involve sharing leadership with the region's weaker states to manage security and economic conflicts. He highlighted that movements are needed to reduce poverty and the impact of tyranny.

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