Medicines Australia position on Intellectual Property (in light of TRIPS Waiver)

Friday 30 April 2021: Medicines Australia is deeply saddened by the worsening situation and devastation in countries resulting from the pandemic. Our thoughts go out to the families of those who have lost loved ones.  

We acknowledge the need to secure timely access to affordable medical products and to scale-up research, development, manufacturing, and supply of such products in our fight against COVID-19. This will only be achieved by supporting innovative COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, not by weakening the ecosystem of research and development (R&D) partnerships underpinned by the current Intellectual Property (IP) protections that brought them to communities around the world.

Medicines Australia is concerned by the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver proposal to the TRIPS Council by India and South Africa, as the proposal incorrectly portrays IP as a barrier to rapid innovation, R&D collaboration, and ample manufacturing of COVID-19 technologies. 

We believe the right policies can drive innovation and access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Developing lifesaving vaccines and treatments so quickly would have been impossible without a legal and regulatory framework that protects IP and rewards innovation and risk-taking. Bolstering this framework will help governments rebuild their healthcare systems and prepare for future crises.

Our innovative biopharmaceutical sector has rapidly developed safe and effective vaccines thanks to its scientific expertise, its willingness to take financial risks, and a strong framework for the protection of IP.

Some individuals, organisations, and governments have called for suspending IP protections to improve access, including compulsory licensing via section 31 of the TRIPS waiver. Yet the current IP system has increased access to Covid-19 products – for example, through voluntary licensing and manufacturing arrangements.

Members of Medicines Australia are at the forefront of this global vaccine effort. We acknowledge their unprecedented dedication and determination to address COVID-19. Some of them are also members of our international body the IFPMA which is a founding partner of the ACT Accelerator and heavily engaged in the COVAX pillar, through which vaccines will be made available in 92 low-and middle-income countries. IFPMA and its members are committed to delivering Covid-19 vaccines to national populations on an equal basis, regardless of their ability to pay.

John-Arne Røttingen, Chair of the WHO Solidarity Trial of Covid-19 treatments, also agrees that technology transfer is crucial, but believes that voluntary mechanisms are a better way to achieve this, he noted in the Lancet: “Covid-19 therapeutics and vaccines are complex biological products in which the main barriers are production facilities, infrastructure, and know-how, rather than the IP.”

Medicines Australia and our Members will continue to work with the Government and partner with stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem and beyond to ensure Australians continue to have access to much needed medicines and vaccines.For global statements see IFPMA statement on Intellectual Property here.