Ensuring that intellectual property rights aren’t a barrier to scaling-up: the remarkable example of penicillin production in the United States during World War II.

This week various international bodies are tackling different challenges in meeting the urgent problem of scaling-up manufacture of and access to vaccines for Covid-19. On 13 April, the World Health Organization in cooperation with the Argentinian Ministry of Health, launched the third Fair Pricing Forum. The meeting seeks to identify ways to improve access to medical products by setting fairer prices for them. This year’s theme is fair pricing in the context of public health emergencies, and opened with a session on ‘Need for Global Public Goods & affordable access for all in the time of Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.’

The World Trade Organization is meanwhile convening a meeting on 14 April with Members, representatives from developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers, civil society groups working on medicines access and other stakeholders. The aim is to discuss how the agency can facilitate Covid-19 vaccine production scale-up, and contribute to more equitable access to vaccines. Expected to be on the agenda are proposals for licensing of IP and know-how and the waiver to certain elements of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, which was proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020. About a year ago, the WHO established the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) to offer a platform for sharing of IP, know-how, data, cell-lines and technologies needed in the response to the Covid-19 outbreak. So far this pool is empty. It is to be hoped that the WTO meeting will help to change that situation.

In a letter to WTO Director General Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 243 civil society organisations have expressed concern about the emphasis on industry-controlled bilateral agreements as the primary approach to addressing global production constraints and supply shortages.

In light of these debates, it is useful to remember that the world has been here before, and that there are important lessons to learn from prior successes. In particular, during World War II, a desperate need for access to the newly-discovered antibiotic penicillin was able to be met through concerted public mobilisation of resources, including sharing of IP and manufacturing know-how.

Read ML&P’s latest briefing paper, a case study in penicillin scale-up during World War II, by clicking here.

Medicines Law & Policy
Medicines Law & Policy
Medicines Law & Policy brings together legal and policy experts in the field of access to medicines, international law, and public health. We provide policy and legal analysis, best practice models and other information that can be used by governments, non-governmental organisations, product development initiatives, funding agencies, UN agencies and others working to ensure the availability of effective, safe and affordable medicines for all.

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