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  • Writer's pictureBy The Financial District

Biden Does A Good Turn As He Makes COVID Tech Available To Poor Nations

The US government has agreed to put licenses for 11 medical technologies developed at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) into a so-called patent pool, a move that promises to make it easier for low- and middle-income countries to gain access to vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics for COVID-19, Jon Cohen reported for Science.

Photo Insert: US President Joe Biden receives his COVID-19 vaccine booster shot.

President Joe Biden made the announcement during the recent Global COVID-19 Summit. The US government cut a deal to provide the federally funded inventions with the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, organized by the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO then turns over the licenses to a nonprofit, the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), which negotiates with manufacturers interested in using the technologies to make products that can be sold worldwide.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” says James Love, who directs Knowledge Ecology International, a nonprofit that advocates sharing intellectual property to benefit the public.

The scheme is part of a broader push to make medicines developed in rich countries more accessible that Love helped spark 2 decades ago by campaigning for the availability of HIV drugs in poor countries.

That Biden himself made the announcement is a “significant” show of support, Love says. Created in 2010, MPP today has patent agreements for several anti-HIV drugs and recently added two treatments for COVID-19, Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck & Co.’s molnupiravir.

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The new agreement also covers inventions used by companies that make existing COVID-19 vaccines, such as a modification that stabilizes spike, the surface protein of SARS-CoV-2. Companies could also use the technologies to make entirely new products. Research tools for drugmakers and diagnostic assays are also part of the agreement.

MPP forges deals with drugmakers that allow companies in the least developed countries to pay the lowest royalty fees—and some pay nothing at all. In many cases, however, the licenses in the NIH portfolio only remove one hurdle to making a vaccine or another product, which often requires licensing agreements with several different patent holders.

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Few developing countries manufacture vaccines—Pfizer and Moderna only recently began to help African countries make their COVID-19 vaccines—and the agreement could lead to more production plants in poorer regions of the world, says Ellen ’t Hoen, who founded MPP.

“You can’t have sustainable vaccine manufacturing capacity if you’re only allowed to produce something when the world is on fire,” she says.

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