The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the globe to a halt. So far, the pandemic has infected 3,679,499 people and caused more than 2.5 lakh deaths worldwide (Source: WHO).
As COVID-19 pandemic is triggering chaos, the largest economies of the world are competing to be the first to find a vaccine for this novel coronavirus. They are trying best to make sure that their citizens would have the right to use any treatments or vaccines when it is available. This pandemic has created a new arms race across the world, the race to hold intellectual property rights to a COVID-19 vaccine.
Intellectual property (or patent) is an exchange of innovative concept between an inventor and government of the country in which the inventor divulges to the public exactly how to recreate the claimed invention (for example a vaccine or a new process) and is in response given an exclusivity of time frame during which it has the liberty to opt for - who, when, where, and how that invention is produced, utilised, or sold.
Moreover, pharmaceutical and biotech companies have a wide range of procedures by which they can safeguard the products they have produced, and also the research and method that goes into manufacturing them. Health care players can file patents on their drugs for every new application, as well as on different dosage and its route of administration. As the companies have certain data rights emerging from submitting clinical study data to federal regulatory bodies like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization, has asked entities to join hands to voluntarily gather intellectual property such as patent rights, regulatory test data for developing diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines for COVID-19.
Millions of Dollars Investment is Needed for New Vaccine Development
For developing a new treatment (drug or vaccine) there is a requirement of millions of dollars investment. Usually, the pharmaceutical and biotech companies compensate for this investment through patenting the products and getting exclusive rights for manufacturing or selling or licensing them. However, amid the present situation with the virus extending to more than 196 nations, requires the healthcare players along with the governments to think beyond profits.
In some countries like the United States, Europe and China, several healthcare companies China believe they are close to generate effective treatments. Moreover, leaders in Europe have repeatedly given assurances that if a lab in Europe would be the first one to develop vaccine and get patent it, the vaccine would be licensed worldwide to make sure the vulnerable people can access it easily.
Race of Getting Patent for New Vaccine
Monoclonal Antibody Against SARS-CoV-2 by Israel Scientists
In Israel, some scientists have developed a key antibody for preventing the COVID-19 that ‘attacks and neutralises’ the virus in patient’s body. The defense minister of Israel, Naftali Bennett stated about a substantial breakthrough achieved by the IIBR in developing an antibody for preventing the dreadful virus.
As per the information given in the Statement of Israel Ministry of Defense on behalf of the IIBR, presently, the institute is pursuing a patent for the development of COVID-19 vaccine, after which IIBR will contact several international manufactures for commercial development of a vaccine. And if the antibody continues to show the encouraging effects as a treatment for the COVID-19, it will create a considerable impact across the most affected nations, especially the hardest-hit European countries.
Meanwhile, an Israeli scientist at the Tel Aviv University has secured a US patent for his advanced vaccine created for the members (corona family viruses). The patent for this innovative vaccine design has received a grant from the patent office of the US- United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). While vaccine development could still take several months before it goes for a human clinical study.
Italian firm claims big breakthrough
Post Israel’s assertion that it has accomplished a major breakthrough while creating an antibody against the COVID-19 and has submitted an application for securing a patent, another nation Italy also revealed that it has produced a vaccine to combat the virus that could prove effective on a human being suffering from the infection.
The study, that was conducted at Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome, Italy revealed that a potential vaccine has produced antibodies in animals which also works on human cells. Human tests for this vaccine are anticipated to begin in the upcoming months.
The director of the NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) Dr. Anthony Fauci, stated that it would take a minimum of year and a half period to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.
Oxford's Jenner Institute Expects to Develop COVID-19 Vaccine by September.
Further, it should be observed that scientists at Jenner Institute have had positive results in receiving an encouraging beginning on creating a vaccine. As the scientists around the world are working against time for developing a vaccine for COVID-19, Jenner Institute has taken the lead in vaccine clinical study and expressed hope that the vaccine could become available by September 2020.
Conflict Between China and America Arises due to Intellectual Property Rights
A US-based pharmaceutical firm Gilead has the patent for the anti-viral drug Remesdivir, currently used to treat COVID-19 patients.
This drug was originally developed for the treatment of the EVD (Ebola Virus Disease), and during the outbreak, Gilead had donated this drug to China to check if it had any effect on treating the COVID-19.
After finding that Remesdivir is effective, the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China has registered a utility-model patent for treatment of novel coronavirus with Remesdivir and antimalarial drug. If China’s registered patent involves a mere combination of two drugs and no innovation, it is unlikely that a patent will be granted. In case, China receives a patent, Gilead will gain compensation for the use of Remesdivir.
Meanwhile, China has adopted a defensive strategy to gain access to Remesdivir and lower the licensing fee in the future. This shows a lack of trust between two powerful countries. This act has left other foreign pharmaceutical companies currently working on vaccines for COVID-19, such as Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline deterrent in providing their vaccines they are working upon currently, to China, fearing that China would not support their intellectual property rights.