If you are a US citizen, you have already paid for your new coronavirus vaccine. Not only have you paid for this future vaccine, you have also paid billions for the research that went into discovering that vaccine. The pharmaceutical companies that accepted all the free money to research will make millions on your investment. You get a jab in the arm.
One of the leading candidates in Phase III clinical trials is the Moderna NIH vaccine. In normal times with any other disease, the U.S. government throws lots of money into the early phase of clinical research, which is then acquired by pharmaceutical companies performing Phase II and III clinical trials. When the drug hits the market, Big Pharma companies turn around and sell the drug to Americans at inflated prices. Pharmaceutical companies claim that they need to charge lots of money to recover the cost of developing the drug and so they can pour money into finding new ones.
That sounds reasonable, except that it was Uncle Sam who initially paid some of the cost of developing the drug. The difference between normal times and COVID times is that when it comes to the Moderna vaccine, the US government stands whole bill.
Moderna is part of Operation Warp Speed, a government program that literally throws billions into finding therapies and vaccines for COVID-1
But it’s getting better. Trump has said on the campaign trail that the vaccine will be available to all Americans for free, which is a difficult thing to do. His administration also pre-ordered 100 million doses at a cost of $ 1.5 billion. This may sound reasonable because it costs money to make vaccines. You need to put them in small vials and store them at the right temperature. The thing is, $ 1.5 billion. Not the cost of manufacturing the vaccine.
In July, Representative Jan Schakowsky asked the president of Moderna, Stephen Hoge, during a committee meeting whether he would sell the vaccine “at cost,” that is, at the cost of production.
His answer: “No, madam.”
Moderna will make millions on a vaccine that they have not paid to develop.
Moderna has also said they will not enforce their patents during the pandemic. It’s a bit like saying you’re a good person to let your friend borrow your car and use all your gas when it’s really your parents who bought the car and who are paying for your gas. The second little twist in the story is that Moderna may not even own all the patents for their COVID vaccine. It takes about 18 months to get a patent granted, and since most of these things have only been developed in the last nine months, it’s really hard right now to get a clear picture of which drug company owns what. They have already lost a dispute with another drug company over one of their patents, which means that if they tried to enforce some of their patent rights, they would probably lose anyway. But hey, nothing gives good publicity like giving something that was not yours to begin with.
Another twist is that it is not the patents that make much of a difference when it comes to making the vaccine. Giving away patent rights only means that another company will not be sued for making the vaccine and saving lives, but it does nothing to help other vaccine manufacturers figure out how to do these things. For that, you need the transfer of know-how. For those of you who watch “The Great British Bake-Off”, it’s a bit like the second challenge when Paul Hollywood asks bakers to do something incredibly difficult and gives them all the ingredients and minimal instruction. The recipe may say: “mix your ingredients and bake 360 degrees”, but if you do not know the order of the mixture, or if you have to bake in a hot water bath, you will not get good results. No one wants to inject a COVID vaccine into the arm that is equivalent to an undercooked rainbow bagel. We want all soft, moist rainbow bagel COVID vaccines and that will not happen unless pharmaceutical companies give this information away.
Fortunately, there are instruments for benevolent pharmaceutical companies that want to give away their patents and know-how to ensure fair global access to vaccines. WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) and Medicine Patent Pool are organizations that bring together intellectual property (IP), data and know-how in an open platform so that researchers around the world can access the information to accelerate drug discovery.
However, it will come as no surprise to anyone that not a single pharmaceutical company in Operation Warp Speed has contributed any meaningful intellectual property or know-how to a COVID-19 vaccine for either C-TAP or Medicines Patent Pool.
The CEO of AstraZeneca, another pharmaceutical company that received a billion dollars from the US government for a COVID vaccine, said: “I think IP [intellectual property] is a fundamental part of our industry, and if you do not protect IP, then there is virtually no incentive for anyone to innovate. “Maybe a literal billion dollars is not enough incentive?
When this pandemic began, there was a push for solidarity to get a “people’s vaccine” that would be funded by governments and delivered free to the citizens. Unfortunately, these optimistic promises have not been realized. Oxfam has reported that rich countries such as the UK have secured five doses of one vaccine per day. Person, while poor countries such as Bangladesh have so far secured a dose per capita. Nine people. It may make sense that pharmaceutical companies are responsible for researching and manufacturing vaccines. That is, after all, what they do. But if we want to rely on capitalism to save ourselves from, well, capitalism, we should go up and go fully in the form of venture capital on them. If we invest in their research, we need to cut profits. In 2019, the ten largest pharmaceutical companies achieved a net profit of $ 86 billion. A fraction of that would be enough to ensure that children in Bangladesh get a vaccine at the same time as children in Texas.