Driving further innovation is critical to global vaccine equity

Since the start of the pandemic, biopharmaceutical companies have worked around the clock to research, develop and manufacture treatments and vaccines to fight COVID-19.

Megan Van Etten
Megan Van EttenAugust 24, 2021

Driving further innovation is critical to global vaccine equity.

The following is part of a series of Catalyst posts detailing each of the five strategies to advance COVID-19 global vaccine equity – which rely on and benefit from a strong innovation ecosystem.

Since the start of the pandemic, biopharmaceutical companies have worked around the clock to research, develop and manufacture treatments and vaccines to fight COVID-19. At unprecedented speed, innovation has delivered multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments now being administered globally. But despite these achievements, the need for new innovations to end the pandemic continues—a reality that has been underscored as the world grapples with emerging variants and assesses how to best prevent against these evolving strains and treat patients who have contracted COVID.

Thankfully, scientists and researchers have continued their tireless work to find solutions. In addition to the more than 100 candidate vaccines currently in clinical development and another 184 in pre-clinical development, scientists are:

  • Studying how well current vaccines can protect against new COVID-19 variants, and how vaccines might be updated to address these emerging variants. Several companies are researching vaccines that protect against multiple strains and looking into the impact of tailored booster shots in defending against new COVID-19 variants.
  • Exploring ways to improve dosage formulations and more convenient storage methods, as well as options for co-administration of vaccines. Pfizer and BioNTech, for instance, are currently exploring a freeze-dried COVID-19 vaccine that would allow for the vaccine to be stored at 2-8 °C—addressing vaccine storage requirements that are not always available in some parts of the world. Moderna is exploring the efficacy of boosters that contain lower dose levels, which could help provide more doses to communities worldwide.
  • Conducting clinical trials in populations that have not yet been cleared to receive vaccines, such as children and those with certain conditions. Vaccine manufacturers are currently studying the safety and efficacy of their COVID-19 vaccines for children—an important step in ensuring all populations are able to receive protection against the virus and serious disease.
  • Researching innovative treatment approaches. To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency use authorization for six COVID-19 treatments and fully approved one antiviral therapy. And scientists around the world currently have nearly 600 different therapies in clinical trials that could potentially allow clinicians to more effectively treat COVID-19 and ultimately improve patient outcomes.

As we’ve watched the delta variant change the trajectory of the pandemic, we are reminded how critical it is to support, incentivize and drive continued innovation. This sustained research requires a robust innovation ecosystem that is bolstered by strong intellectual property (IP) rights, and policy, legal and regulatory certainty.

But a group of vocal IP critics have continued advocating for waiving obligations to protect IP under the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS agreement, claiming that this would promote more equitable global vaccine distribution. In reality, the opposite is true. At a time when research and development has never been more important, jeopardizing the certainty that IP protections provide would only threaten efforts to understand and tackle variants, hamper ongoing tech transfer and voluntary collaborations, compromise future medical innovation and adversely impact the rate at which innovators are able to respond to future pandemics.

To meaningfully ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are reaching across the globe in an equitable and efficient manner, it’s critical that the real barriers and bottlenecks—like those related to dose sharingproductiontrade barriers and country readiness—are being addressed and that the innovation ecosystem continues to be supported and protected through IP protections.

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