Report finds that rapid Covid-19 response was achieved because of IP rights, not in spite of them

Researchers’ unprecedented rapid response to the Covid-19 pandemic and that of the bio-pharmaceutical companies – which included sharing proprietary technology with many dozens of partners on every continent in the world – was not accomplished  in spite of patents but because of the security provided by them.

That this the key finding of a new report from the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), Unprecedented: The Rapid Innovation Response to COVID-19 and the Role of Intellectual Property.

“Most [people] appreciate the quick development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics,” the report states, “but many overlook the enormous scope of the effort. Many people are unaware of the extensive collaboration among biopharmaceutical companies and other institutions that made it possible to bring these treatments to society with a compressed timeline.”

Prior to Covid the fastest development time for a major vaccine was for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), which took four years to move from the lab to market. The Covid vaccine response was completed in just nine months.

The report shows that extensive collaboration and technology transfer took place among biopharma industry companies, as well as public health organizations and government agencies.

“IP stimulates efforts to develop different ways to solve the same problem, designing around others’ IP rights,” says Jennifer Brant, co-author of Unprecedented. “The result: a myriad of compounds and platforms that could be used to rapidly develop Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.”

“IP stimulates efforts to develop different ways to solve the same problem, designing around others’ IP rights”

Some argue that IP rights inhibit the information sharing. In the case of Covid-19, the researchers found that IP rights provided a safe environment for innovators to share proprietary technology and knowledge with partners, including competitors. “They did so with the confidence that their IP assets, whether patents or trade secrets, were protected under IP and contract laws. This reduced the risk of losing control over their IP and related competitive advantages.”

Building the Plane While Flying It 

Companies maintained open dialogue with regulatory agencies, to dialogue in real time about relying on new, expedited methods for production and testing without compromising on quality or patient safety.“We were building the plane as we were flying it. We were making manufacturing steps as we went, making cell lines, cooling cell lines, doing it all to expedite things and get things to clinical trials.”

Unprecedented: The Rapid Innovation Response to COVID-19 and the Role of Intellectual Property  was compiled by Innovation Insights, CEO Jennifer Brant, and Professor Mark Schultz, Director, Intellectual Property and Technology Law Program, University of Akron School of Law.

The executive summary can be found here.

For the full report, go here.

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