ARTICLE: Negotiation is the best way

Newspaper: Folha de S.Paulo

Author: Nelson Mussolini*

Trends/Debates: “Will patent breaking make a difference in access to vaccines and medicines during the pandemic?”


It is a fallacy to imagine that the suspension of intellectual property rights for vaccines and drugs against Covid-19 will result in an immediate expansion of the supply of these products. The complexity and time needed to implement these processes, in their various scientific, technological, operational and financial aspects is an insurmountable barrier.

Continuing to promote global articulation to leverage the production and distribution of vaccines and drugs to combat the SARS-CoV-2 virus is the key for us to achieve the necessary vaccine coverage to control the pandemic across the planet.

It was the joint effort of companies, governments and research centers that resulted in obtaining immunizing drugs and medicines in record time. Patent breaking does not facilitate or accelerate the achievement of this goal.

It is always better to look for a common ground. Dealing with Covid-19 in what turned out to be its critical point — the discovery and large-scale production of vaccines to combat it — has shown this. Had it not been for the willingness to negotiate on the part of national and international pharmaceutical industries, health research and development institutions and Brazilian and world authorities, the drama of the pandemic would have been even greater. All available vaccines and most of those in different stages of testing were developed in partnership.

Historically the idea of “patent breaching” has only played a purely commercial role to reduce prices. But here the situation is different.

Specialists agree on the impracticability of an immediate and relevant increase in the production of vaccines with patent breaking since the start of production demands high investments and takes a long time. Copying formulas is not enough: it is necessary to know how to do it. One example is Efavirenz, the compulsory licensing of which in 2007 had no practical effect for years until its patent expired in Brazil in 2012.

Thus, paradoxically, in the name of the “right to life” advocates for patent breaking for Covid-19 vaccines would be inadvertently condemning entire populations to death as in the medium and long terms this initiative would generate enormous legal uncertainty, the result of which would likely be the withdrawal of current and future investments by pharmaceutical industries in these products.

And in addition to threatening the manufacture and supply of vaccines the measure would affect all pharmaceutical industries installed in Brazil, national and international, public and private companies that act in accordance with the Brazilian Intellectual Property Law and the Agreement on Aspects of Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organization, making it impossible for successful initiatives to produce vaccines in the country involving Butantan/Sinovac, Fiocruz/AstraZeneca and Eurofarma/Pfizer, among other partnerships, to take place.

Given the health, economic and social challenges imposed by the current pandemic and the risks of future outbreaks there is a single effective way: sponsoring multilateral arrangements and supply and technological exchange agreements without exception rules.

It is from this collaboration that other realistic and far-reaching solutions are already coming out and shall come to fight the pandemic and immunize populations in Brazil and in the world against SARS-CoV-2 and the novel coronavirus. Negotiation is the vaccine to get more vaccines.

(*) Nelson Mussolini is the executive president of the pharmaceutical industry association Sindusfarma (Sindicato da Indústria de Produtos Farmacêuticos, in portuguese) and a member of the Brazilian Health Council (CNS, acronym in portuguese).