Thirty-seven countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) appealed on Friday for the common ownership of vaccines, medicines and diagnostic tools to tackle the global coronavirus pandemic, taking aim at patent laws they fear could become a barrier to sharing crucial supplies.
While the push by mostly developing nations, called the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, won praise from groups including Doctors Without Borders, one drug industry alliance questioned whether the effort to pool intellectual property would really broaden access to medicines. Some developing and small nations fear that rich countries pumping resources into finding vaccines, of which more than 100 are in development, will muscle their way to the front of the queue once a candidate succeeds.
"Vaccines, tests, diagnostics, treatments and other key tools in the coronavirus response must be made universally available as global public goods," said Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado.
The effort, originally proposed in March, aims to provide a one-stop shop for scientific knowledge, data and intellectual property amid a pandemic that has infected more than 5.8 million people and killed more than 360,000 globally.
The WHO issued a "Solidarity Call to Action", asking other stakeholders to join the voluntary push.
"WHO recognizes the important role that patents play in fueling innovation but this is a time when people must take priority," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online news briefing.
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations raised concerns about undermining intellectual property protections, which the group said already enable collaboration and will also be needed after the pandemic is over.
"The 'Solidarity Call to Action' promotes a one-size-fits all model that disregards the specific circumstances of each situation, each product and each country," the federation said.
Anna Marriott, health policy manager for anti-poverty group Oxfam, said the divide over how to handle patents illustrated how some regions could wind up as losers.
"The pharmaceutical industry's attempt to rubbish the World Health Organisation's initiative suggests they care more for profits than people's health," she said.