The government’s patent for the technology used in mRNA vaccines against COVID could be an “important policy tool” to boost production, activists and academics say.
A group of academics and activists is urging the United States government to make sure the upcoming patent for the technology at the heart of several coronavirus vaccines is used to increase access to inoculants globally.
A patent for a particular form of molecular engineering, developed by U.S. government scientists and currently used by five manufacturers of mRNA coronavirus vaccines, is expected to be issued soon.
The vaccine category uses synthetic mRNA to trigger human cells to create a harmless spike protein found on the coronavirus, which stimulates an immune response that inoculates an individual from the actual infection. Other forms of vaccines usually use attenuated or inactivated virus.
In a letter to U.S. health officials, six health advocacy organizations and 15 public health academics said the upcoming patent was “an important policy tool the U.S. government could use to facilitate increased production” for mRNA vaccines using the technology.
Licensing agreements that include a patent can be used to “ensure rapid, equitable global access,” according to a letter sent to Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerri, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Francis Collins and the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Anthony Fauci.
It comes as rich countries face increased pressure from advocates and the World Health Organization (WHO) to share technology and rights with vaccine manufacturers in poorer middle-income countries.
The U.S., as well as countries like the United Kingdom and Canada, have ordered enough doses to vaccinate their populations multiple times, while several countries have struggled to ensure access to doses. Some critics have called the disparity vaccine apartheid.
‘Contributes to saving millions of lives’
A letter sent Wednesday singled out the Moderna vaccine, which was developed with NIAID and received $ 2.5 billion in state funding.
Modern, along with three of the other five vaccine manufacturers using government technology, currently does not have a licensing agreement with Washington.
The authors of the letter said that any licensing should include provisions that allow the U.S. to approve the production of Modern vaccine; require the exchange of technologies with the WHO to help boost global production; and universally include affordable pricing requirements.
“This could help save millions of lives globally,” they wrote. “It will also help protect public health at home. Global vaccination with highly effective vaccines, such as mRNA-1273 [the Moderna vaccine], is our best defense against the development of vaccine-resistant variants [the coronavirus]. ”
They claimed that the US government had used patents in this way in the past.
In recent weeks, the U.S. has also faced increasing pressure to globally allocate the projected surplus of hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines expected in the second half of 2021.
Asked Wednesday how the U.S. balances intellectual property protection and innovation by moving faster toward a world without COVID, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. will “look at each option through the prism of whether it will save lives and how many lives it will save, and try to invest your resources and efforts in the ones we think will be most effective. ”
She added: “Currently, our focus is on continuing to address the ongoing pandemic in the United States, given that 1,000 people are still dying every day.”