Expanding the WTO intellectual property waiver will hurt American jobs

It is no coincidence that the United States has developed leading COVID-19 treatments.

Megan Van Etten
Megan Van EttenNovember 9, 2022

Expanding the WTO intellectual property waiver will hurt American jobs.

The June decision by WTO members to waive commitments to protect intellectual property (IP) for COVID-19 vaccines under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement was a political and ineffective measure that does not address the true barriers to vaccine equity. Now, some are pushing to extend this harmful waiver to COVID-19 treatments, even though production exceeds demand for treatments, including for the most effective antivirals and monoclonal antibodies. Allowing foreign governments and competitors to disregard IP protections will result in a loss of American jobs and hamper much-needed American innovation.

It is no coincidence that the United States has developed leading COVID-19 treatments. Individuals and companies alike rely on IP rights to invest the necessary resources into developing medicines. Given the United States’ strong IP infrastructure, U.S. global biopharmaceutical companies spend 90 percent of their research and development (R&D) expenditures in America each year.

More than $24 billion already has been invested in COVID-19 clinical trials, which represents only a portion of COVID-19 R&D spending in the United States. Investment in COVID-19 clinical trials alone supports more than 100,000 American jobs. If the treatments being tested today continue through the R&D process, another $80 billion could be spent over the next several years, supporting more than 110,000 U.S. jobs annually. Twenty-eight PhRMA member companies collectively have more than 150 unique products in clinical trials to treat COVID-19. Any effort by the Biden Administration to effectively give away the IP of American companies on COVID-19 treatments to foreign competitors would put American jobs at risk.

Further, ceding IP protections would hamper both the American economy and the entire U.S. biopharmaceutical sector, which directly employs more than 900,000 American workers and supports 4.4 million American jobs — from researchers and manufacturers to distributors and logistics professionals. New private investment in establishing and expanding biopharmaceutical manufacturing and R&D facilities grew 96 percent from 2018 to 2021 in the United States, while growth remained flat for the rest of the world. Expanding the TRIPS waiver would allow global competitors to unfairly obtain and use American innovation, curbing investment, endangering U.S. jobs and undermining incentives to develop treatments for millions of patients around the world.

Rather than undercutting the U.S. economy and harming American workers through expanding the TRIPS waiver to COVID-19 treatments, the Biden Administration and other global leaders should focus on the real issues impacting COVID-19 treatment access, including in-country medical product distribution and administration.

To read more about the harms of TRIPS waiver expansion, click here.


i Information on clinical trials in the United States involving COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines is estimated using publicly available information collected by Informa in their clinical trial database. The cost of clinical trials involving COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines is estimated by Evaluate. The jobs impact from R&D spending on clinical trials is estimated using U.S. Department of Commerce (BEA) RIMS II multipliers. The potential number of clinical trials needed if treatments and vaccines being tested today continue through the R&D development process is a PhRMA calculation based on all COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines continuing from their current Phase through Phase IV trials.

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