If you are a US citizen, you have already paid for your new coronavirus vaccine. Not only did you pay for this future vaccine, but you also paid billions for the research that led to the discovery of that vaccine. The drug companies that accepted all that free money to do that research will make millions from your investment. You will receive a shot in the arm.
A major candidate in stage III clinical trials is the Moderna NIH vaccine. In normal times with any other disease, the US government invests a lot of money in early stage clinical research, which is then bought by the pharmaceutical companies doing phase II and III clinical trials. When that drug hits the market, Big Pharma companies turn around and sell that drug to Americans at inflated prices. Pharmaceutical companies will argue that they need to charge a lot of money to recover the costs of developing the drug and so they can invest money to find new ones.
It seems reasonable, except that it was Uncle Sam who paid some of the costs for developing the drug in the first place. The difference between normal times and COVID times is that in the case of the Moderna vaccine, the US government is paying whole bill.
Moderna is part of Operation Warp Speed, a government program that spends literally billions to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-1
But it gets better. Trump said during the election campaign that the vaccine will be available to all Americans for free, which is a great thing to do. His administration also pre-ordered 100 million doses at a cost of $ 1.5 billion. This might seem reasonable because it costs money to produce vaccines. You need to put them in small glass vials and store them at the right temperature. The fact is that $ 1.5 billion is not the cost of manufacturing the vaccine.
In July, Representative Jan Schakowsky asked Moderna chairman Stephen Hoge at a committee meeting whether he would sell the vaccine “at cost”, ie at the cost of production.
His answer: “No, ma’am”.
Moderna will make millions on a vaccine it didn’t pay to develop.
Moderna also said it will not enforce its patents during the course of the pandemic. It’s kind of like saying you’re a good person for letting your friend borrow your car and use all of your gas, when it’s really your parents who bought the car and are paying for your gas. . The other small twist in history is that Moderna may not even own all of the patents for its COVID vaccine. It takes about 18 months to get a patent, and since most of this stuff has only been developed in the past nine months, it’s really hard right now to get a clear picture of which pharmaceutical company owns what. They have already lost a dispute with another pharmaceutical 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 does good publicity like giving away something that wasn’t yours to begin with.
Another twist is that patents don’t make much difference when it comes to making the vaccine. Giving away the patent rights just 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 this, the transfer of know-how is necessary. For those of you watching “The Great British Bake-Off”, it’s kind of like that second challenge, when Paul Hollywood tells the bakers to do something incredibly difficult and gives them all the ingredients and minimal instructions. The recipe might say: “mix the ingredients and bake at 360 degrees” but if you don’t know the order of dough, or if you have to cook in a double boiler, you won’t get great results. Nobody wants to inject a COVID vaccine into their arm which is the equivalent of a undercooked rainbow bagel. We all want soft and wet COVID vaccines for the rainbow bagel, and that won’t happen unless pharmaceutical companies provide this information.
Fortunately, there are tools available for benevolent pharmaceutical companies who wish 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 Medicines Patent Pool are organizations that collect intellectual property (IP), data and know-how in an open platform so that scientists around the world can access to information to accelerate drug discovery.
However, it will come as no surprise to anyone that no pharmaceutical company in Operation Warp Speed has contributed any significant intellectual property or know-how for a COVID-19 vaccine to C-TAP or the 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] it’s a key part of our industry and if you don’t protect IP, then essentially there is no incentive for anyone to innovate. “Maybe a billion dollars isn’t enough incentive?
When this pandemic started, there was a push for solidarity to have a “popular vaccine” that would be funded by governments and provided free to citizens. Unfortunately, these optimistic promises did not materialize. Oxfam reported that rich countries like the UK have secured five doses of a vaccine per person, while poor countries like Bangladesh have so far secured one dose for every nine people. It might make sense to entrust pharmaceutical companies with responsibility for researching and manufacturing vaccines. This is what they do after all. But if we want to trust capitalism to save us, well, capitalism, we should up the ante and become a real venture capitalist on them. If we invest in their research, we should see a reduction in profits. In 2019, the top ten pharmaceutical companies made a net profit of $ 86 billion. A fraction of this would be enough to make sure children in Bangladesh are receiving a vaccine at the same time as children in Texas.