‘Corona pill patent sharing is good news for developing countries’

Pharmaceutical Merck, active in Europe under the name MSD, will share the patents for his new corona pill. That allows other pharmaceuticals to produce the antiviral agent molnupiravir cheaply for 105 low-income countries.

According to MSD, the pill prevents people from becoming seriously ill or dying after a corona infection. Molnupiravir has yet to be approved by the US drug regulator FDA and the European counterpart EMA. If that happens, it can be marketed in the United States and Europe. It would be the first covid-19 remedy for people to swallow.

That MSD has decided to share the patent is good news for developing countries, experts say. Without the agreement, the pill would probably be difficult to reach for those countries. These are countries that often have problems with getting coronavirus vaccines.

The patent agreement runs through a special organization called the Medicines Patent Pool, which is supported by the United Nations. The aim of that organization is to make essential medicines accessible to developing countries by negotiating licensing. For example, the Medicines Patent Pool previously negotiated patents on HIV agents.

The Netherlands is not on the list of the Medicines Patent Pool, but many African countries do. Vaccination is very much lagging on the African continent. Wealthier countries have enough resources to purchase the MSD resource.

‘Makes big difference’

โ€œThis is going to make a big difference for developing countries,โ€ says Ellen‘t Hoen, patent law expert. It expects molnupiravir to remain affordable if several manufacturers start working with it. โ€œFor countries where vaccines are poorly available, this can become an important product.โ€

The current vaccine scarcity will not change the release of the patent, warns field epidemiologist and microbiologist Amrish Baidjoe, working for MSF. โ€œBut you do give countries the opportunity to set up their own production without being opposed.โ€ According to Baidjoe, the production of the drug will rise and the price will fall.

The field epidemiologist states that developing countries are now too dependent on the charities of wealthier nations, who have purchased covid vaccines on a large scale. Baidjoe: โ€œThat charity is largely absent. Moreover, during a global crisis, you don’t want to depend on that, you want countries to be able to produce themselves regionally.

Baidjoe said that there would be insufficient knowledge to make vaccines or covid medicines independent locally. โ€œI work in many areas where academic institutes are and where there is a lot of knowledge. They see the suffering and need to produce locally and want to work with it.โ€

MSD‘s move calls patent expert’t Hoen special because vaccine producers refuse to share their patents. โ€œWhat you want is for other manufacturers to do the same thing in the end. I hope they will see the light on that matter, but their financial interests are huge,โ€ says Hoen.

Vaccine producers Pfizer and Moderna refuse to waive their patent rights so far, even though governments and health organizations have insisted on this. Baidjoe and‘t Hoen are very critical of this refusal, precisely because their vaccines were developed with public money.

No gadget, but life-saver

Baidjoe: โ€œThe technology needs to be shared in the end. We’re not talking about patents on new phones or tablets, but about life-saving resources.โ€

Patent trust expert‘t Hoen believes that countries worldwide should have been much sharper when they made deals with producers. โ€œWhen all billions went out for vaccine development, this should have already been arranged. That this didn’t happen is a lack of political leadership.โ€