COVID-19: time to plan for prompt universal access to diagnostics and treatments

The Lancet, by Luca Li Bassi, Lenias Hwenda

In one of the most extraordinary global public health agreements ever made, the G20 have recognised that the Covid-19 pandemic “calls for a transparent, robust, coordinated, large-scale and science-based global response in the spirit of solidarity” and note its commitment to ‘do whatever it takes’ to overcome the pandemic, along with relevant international organisations….”

However, the authors of this article point out that: “… to achieve what is needed under the current extraordinary circumstances using the ordinary research and development and intellectual property frameworks, which were not designed to address a pandemic of this scale, will be a challenge. Inadequate global manufacturing capacity for emerging diagnostics might already be forcing public health decisions to compromise health outcomes. The G20’s commitments provide an opportunity to rethink intellectual property exclusivity and societal benefits of medical innovations.

“Chile, Ecuador, Israel, Canada,and Germanyhave already initiated the adoption of national measures allowing the use of compulsory licensing to facilitate access to health products and other technologies for managing COVID-19. However, a global approach must be taken to ensure that all technologies will be simultaneously and promptly available in an equitable and efficient way that is affordable to all.

“Therefore, of utmost importance is the appeal made by Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, and endorsed by the Director-General of WHO, to “pool rights to technologies that are useful for the detection, prevention, control and treatment of the COVID-19 pandemic”. Costa Rica’s President envisages a global pool that provides every country with free access or licensing on reasonable and affordable terms, and “should include existing and future rights in patented inventions and designs, as well as rights in regulatory test data, know-how, cell lines, copyrights and blueprints for manufacturing diagnostic tests, devices, drugs, or vaccines”.

“President Quesada also requested the establishment of a global database on research and development activities related to COVID-19, including estimates of the costs of clinical trials and subsidies provided by governments and charities to support coordination, transparency, and knowledge sharing…

“In an open letter to the European Commissionby 33 members of the European Parliament about how EU-funded medical technologies for COVID-19 will be made available, accessible, and affordable for patients. The members of the European Parliament requested to leverage EU investment to demand transparency in the research and development pipeline by providing full public oversight and accountability over public and private investment in end-product development.

“Finally, to better serve public health interest, WHO announced the coordination of a large global study (SOLIDARITY trial [ISRCTN83971151]) designed to prove safety and efficacy data on the four treatments that have the strongest scientific rationale for the treatment of patients with COVID-19. The study simplifies procedures enabling even overloaded hospitals to participate. As of March 29, 2020, 45 countries have joined this important initiative.”