Bilateral deals might not be equitable for Covid-19: MPP executive director Charles Gore


Countries are waiting for drugs and vaccines to combat Covid-19, which will help them to lift lockdowns and have treatments ready to handle future infection waves. However, access and affordability of such drugs remain a key area of concern. The Medicines Patent Pool is a United Nations-backed public health organisation that helps middle- and low-income countries get access to critical drugs. MPP executive director Charles Gore told ET about the organisation’s plan to ensure equitable access of Covid-19 drugs and vaccines. Edited excerpts:

Which are the companies you are negotiating for Covid-19 patents?
We are in discussions with Gilead for Remdesivir. I don’t know how this will go, but we are in discussions. We have a confidentiality agreement with them, so can’t share much, but this is the first of the drugs that we are looking at. Besides this, we are watching a few drugs like Favipiravir, Tocilizumab, Sarilumab, Ruxolitinib and Siltuximab.

What about vaccines?
We are reaching out to GSK-Sanofi, J&J (Janssen), Oxford University and the University of Bern, asking them if we can be of assistance to them – we will see how this goes. But there are several issues here. One is how much they want us to come – it is possible they might want to do it themselves. The difference here is that in a normal situation, companies might say there are 60 countries where we can make money. But here, I hope companies do not try to make money, at least not when the public health emergency is on. So, we can offer these companies management in a lot of the work involved in helping to scale up and making sure the capacity is there.

Have companies shown interest?
Not yet. It is early days and obviously there are a lot of trials going on and we will try and see what works. But we have expanded our mandate to cover any technology that could be used for Covid-19 and that includes vaccines, diagnostics and even devices. Obviously, vaccines, diagnostics and devices are not our area of expertise. But we still might be able to be of assistance in licensing of these technologies. So, we are exploring and telling the WHO that we can help them in setting up a global pool.

Will companies bypass a common pool like MPP and directly negotiate with countries and other generic companies? What happens then?
Gilead has often done that. They have also given bilateral licences to other companies – that might happen here, too. But what we feel strongly is that those deals are not necessarily as much as in public interest as our deals are. They are not transparent and we don’t know the terms of the deal. Often, they are exclusive, which does not drag the price down… So, in general, we don’t think bilateral licensing is the way to go and it applies more so for Covid-19.

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Written by sortiwa


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