BIO: Expanding COVID IP waiver could harm US biotech companies

After making the misguided decision to waive intellectual property (IP) protections for COVID vaccines, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is thinking about extending the waiver to therapeutics, Bio.News has reported.

However, U.S. support for such a waiver would be inconsistent with President Biden’s new executive order to advance U.S. biotech and biomanufacturing, says the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) in a letter to the President today.

On September 12, 2022, President Biden signed an executive order to accelerate biotech innovation and grow the bioeconomy in the U.S., as we reported. This E.O. is backed by $2 billion in funding.

However, an expanded IP waiver “would send U.S.-developed innovative technologies and biomanufacturing jobs overseas and, consequently, weaken the ability for U.S. biotech firms—including the hundreds of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) involved in the development of COVID-19 therapeutics—to compete globally and grow jobs domestically,” said BIO in the letter, which was sent to President Biden this morning.

IP waiver would harm small biotech companies the most

According to the letter, “SME biotech companies account for 307 of the 357 unique COVID-19 therapeutics currently in development, roughly 86 percent.”

“A waiver of IP rights applied to COVID-19 therapeutics would give away the tremendous innovative potential in these underlying technologies, benefitting America’s foreign competitors at the expense of the investment and ingenuity of hundreds of U.S.-based biotech firms,” the BIO letter argues.

Opposing the expansion of WTO TRIPS waiver is crucial

BIO says strengthening health systems infrastructure, addressing vaccine hesitancy, and supporting “more robust” procurement initiatives could have a “meaningful impact” without harming U.S. innovation.

“The proposed expansion of the TRIPS waiver is nothing more than an effort by adversaries of the United States to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to fundamentally undermine the global IP rights system, undermine the United States’ position as a global leader in biotechnology, and gain access to some of the most innovative biotechnology tools without any good-faith negotiation with IP rights holders,” said BIO President and CEO Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath.

The letter concludes that ”one of the key policy tenets of the recent Executive Order is to maintain United States technological leadership and economic competitiveness in biotech and biomanufacturing innovation. To truly be the world’s arsenal of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics and to realize the full potential of the Executive Order, there is no other decision to make than to firmly oppose the expansion in any form of the WTO TRIPS waiver to COVID-19 therapeutics and diagnostics.”

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