Lincoln County Public Health Director JoBeth Mills administers a coronavirus vaccine on March 19, 2021, in Hugo, Colorado. The vaccine event served 298 people, 60 of them from Lincoln County. (Brian Malone, Special to The Colorado Sun)

For decades, the United States has maintained bipartisan opposition to pressure from the World Trade Organization to compromise patent protections covering America’s world-leading biomedical research. 

The foremost priority in taking this stance has been to ensure the safety and integrity of medicines available to patients around the world. Secondarily, protecting the intellectual property of U.S. biomedical research ensures that innovation is not compromised or misappropriated, and that the legal structure under which American researchers create breakthrough treatments is kept intact.

Jennifer Jones Paton

The decision by the Biden administration to support waiving intellectual property protections involving COVID-19 vaccines and related products sent shockwaves through the world’s public health and research communities at the potential damage to patient safety and future innovation. 

The move unfairly penalizes health innovators who have worked around the clock since the beginning of the pandemic to develop life-saving vaccines that are giving hope and restoring normalcy to people in many parts of the world.    

Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), put it plainly when she said, “…the administration has chosen to support waiving critical protections for American ingenuity and to delay the equitable delivery of needed COVID vaccines to people around the globe.”

As Dr. McMurry-Heath and many other experts have pointed out, the waiver of what is known as TRIPs, or Trade-Relations Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, hands developing countries a recipe book without the ingredients, safeguards, specialized manufacturing capabilities, and highly trained workforce needed to help people waiting for the vaccine. 

Giving away intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccine formulas and production will take a year to have any impact on global supply while doing nothing to stop the emergence of dangerous new COVID variants. The better alternative would be to follow through on the president’s earlier pledge to make the United States the world’s “arsenal of vaccines.”

The U.S. life sciences community has put forth a list of policy solutions that would establish the COVID Global Strategy for Harnessing Access Reaching Everyone (SHARE) Program. 

The Global SHARE Program would ensure sufficient global supply of vaccines, offer safe and expeditious global access to vaccines and therapeutics, and bolster ongoing efforts to strengthen and support healthcare systems in low-and middle-income countries in addressing COVID. It would accomplish these goals without compromising protections for intellectual property or further stretching limited global vaccine expertise to the breaking point.

At Colorado BioScience Association, we advocate for a supportive, pro-innovation business climate. CBSA supports proposals to strengthen the ability of patent owners to defend their inventions and businesses against infringement. 

Strong intellectual property protections are the foundation of the life sciences industry. IP is essential to the technology transfer process that leads from lab invention to commercial product.

Colorado Bioscience Association strongly encourages Colorado’s U.S. senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, to speak out against the TRIPs waiver and ensure that the U.S. government:

  • Prevents the expropriation of technology that has use beyond COVID vaccines which could be used to compete against American companies and workers in the future.
  • Confirms that these actions do not impede global supply chains for existing facilities.
  • Avoids any precedents that would undermine incentives to develop vaccines and treatments in future pandemics.
  • Confirms that vaccine manufacturing is done in compliance with rigorous safety and manufacturing standards.

We urge the United States to reverse course and oppose the TRIPs waiver.

Jennifer Jones Paton is president and CEO of Colorado BioScience Association, which creates co-opportunity for Colorado’s life sciences community.

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