Ways & Means action seeks to highlight plans for an expanded TRIPS waiver

Amid growing worries about a plan to broaden the WTO’s TRIPS waiver, which strips intellectual property (IP) safeguards for COVID technology, the House Ways & Means Committee marked up a resolution today that would ask the Biden administration for further information about its actions regarding WTO negotiation.

The resolution was not necessarily expected to move to a full House vote. The so-called Resolution of Inquiry—a House mechanism enabling any member to call for a vote seeking information from the executive branch—offers Republicans, as the minority party, opportunities to draw attention to their concerns about WTO negotiations.

According to the White House, during a bilateral discussion with Biden on Friday in Washington, the president of South Africa pushed for an expansion of the waiver to include COVID therapeutics. The concept is currently being discussed by WTO officials.

The WTO already decided to withdraw IP rights for COVID vaccines in June. The stated goal of that first waiver was to increase global COVID vaccine distribution, which was no longer a concern, when the waiver was put in place. What the waiver did do was threaten the potential return on R&D investment that IP may provide, which will harm innovation, as we’ve reported. In a move that would further undermine investor trust in market incentives for drug research, the WTO is contemplating expanding the waiver to further remove IP rights on COVID-19 therapeutics, as Bio.News reported.

“It is unfortunate that trade officials in Geneva, including those from the United States, have fallen victim to a false narrative that intellectual property rights stand in the way of beating back the global COVID-19 pandemic. To the contrary: IP is an enabler of innovation and global scientific collaboration. It is what builds trust and fosters the partnerships needed to bring medical breakthroughs to patients around the globe. The decision at the WTO is nothing more than a distraction from the real work that needs to be done,” said Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, president and CEO of Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), in opposing the first waiver.

Given that the United States might support another WTO IP waiver, yesterday’s resolution, sponsored by Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), asks the Biden Administration to give proof that:

  • the first waiver improved the global delivery of COVID vaccines;
  • the proposed waiver on therapeutics will improve the distribution of therapeutics; and,
  • China, which is supposed to be excluded from the waivers, will not obtain access to U.S. IP through enacted or proposed waivers.

You can watch the Ways and Means hearing here.

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