“We have no model which would meet the need for new drugs in a sustainable way. You can’t expect for-profit organizations to do this in a large scale. If you want to establish a system where companies systematically invest in this kind of area [low-cost medicines for developing-countries], you need a different system.” –
Former Novartis CEO, Daniel Wasilla, in the Financial Times, September 2006
We are trapped, entangled in the worst health crisis the world has ever seen. The tiny virus has caused some of history’s worst pandemics, from the Antonine Plague to the current COVID-19 event. In this health crisis how can we make better use of research and technology? Developing health technologies requires wise use of Intellectual Property (IP).
In the recent past, the United States, India, Germany, China, Japan, Mexico, and many other nations have upgraded their IP rights and protections. In new research, we find clear relationships over time and across many countries between improvements in the IP regimes and the increasing R&D intensity of their leading industries. To meet the global health needs of tomorrow, it is critical to invest in research and development today, so that the most effective health solutions are available when we need them.
R&D gives practical shape to an idea or discovery, converting it into a product that addresses a health need. In global health, the end result should be a safe and effective product that is appropriate, affordable, acceptable, and accessible to those who need it most. Robust R&D mechanism equipped with new health technologies is indispensable part of the solution to the world’s greatest global health challenges, and one of the biggest drivers of health improvements worldwide. While tremendous progress has been achieved in global health over the last several decades but a lot is yet to be done. Millions of people still die each year from infectious diseases and other health challenges. We will not continue to make progress against existing and emerging global health threats using health technologies alone. New vaccines, drugs, diagnostics and other health tools are needed to continue the arc of progress. Health R&D has a multiplier effect; it not only improves and saves lives, but also creates cost savings, drives economic growth and enhances global security.
The experimental antiviral drug remdesivir successfully prevented disease in rhesus macaques infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), according to a study performed by the US National Institutes of Health and supported by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Remdesivir both prevented disease when administered before infection and improved the condition of the macaques when given after the animals already were infected. MERS-CoV is closely related to COVID-19, which emerged in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and has grown to be a public health emergency. The promising results of this study support the case for additional clinical trials of remdesivir for MERS-CoV and COVID-19. Gilead Sciences developed remdesivir and collaborated in the research.
Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) has joined civil society in urging G20 policymakers to strengthen R&D to meet urgent health challenges, including achieving universal health coverage (UHC) and combating antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and other health threats. GHTC director Jamie Bay Nishi delivered remarks on advancing R&D for AMR at face-to-face meeting with G20 officials, and the coalition provided input on broader civil society recommendations.
The GHTC focused on sustainable financing to address urgent R&D gaps. G20 nations should commit new funding to address urgent gaps in the global response to COVID-19 and other emerging threats, including funding R&D for new diagnostics, treatments, vaccines, and other innovations. This should include support for multilateral institutions including the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
Three months ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) prequalified rVSV-ZEBOV-GP (Ebola Vaccine) and announced that the vaccine met quality, safety, and efficiency standards – paving the way for African countries to start their own regulatory processes. rVSV-ZEBOV-GP was first used in the 2015 Ebola outbreak and later in the current ongoing outbreak under a “compassionate use” research protocol, where it was found to be more than 97 percent effective.
The WHO has announced it will launch a multi-arm, multi-country clinical trial, known as the SOLIDARITY trial, for potential coronavirus therapies. A continuous effort is needed to accelerate and maintain the coherence between the IP and health based human right.
Thus we can say there is still substantial need for improvements to accelerate the research in the field of IPR related rights to meet the global health crisis.
—The writer is a research scholar at Department of Law, Aligarh Muslim University. [email protected]