Breaking patents will not facilitate access to health care
The breaking of patents, pointed out by many as the panacea for the pandemic, will not result, in the short term, in Brazil’s access to vaccines against Covid-19, has said ABPI’s vice president, Gabriel Leonardos. He insists that the appropriate instrument for this purpose is the compulsory license, provided for in Brazilian law.
Will the patent breaking, as it is popularly called, proposed by some countries in the WTO, facilitate, in the short term, Brazil’s access to vaccines against Covid-19?
Gabriel Leonardos: No. The measure will be harmless for the purpose of facilitating access to vaccines in the short term. The lack of access to Covid-19 vaccines, which currently afflicts the world today, stems from the lack of inputs and manufacturing infrastructure and not possible patent obstacles. As Gonzalo Vecina, the sanitary doctor and founder of ANVISA recently said in an article published in the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo, on May 13th, 2021: “Once the patent has been broken can you produce? No. The process of producing a patent always has secrets not deposited; and only with important efforts on reverse engineering will it be possible to unravel the process for obtaining the product. Thus, the breaking of patents without the collaboration of the holder is a heroic and empty act”.
Is it possible to produce vaccines without the support of laboratories?
GL: Yes, but it can take years. First, it is necessary to ensure access to inputs; then, you need to have the manufacturing infrastructure, and these first two steps are not trivial. Third comes the extremely difficult challenge of mastering technology for manufacturing. In the only time that Brazil decreed a compulsory license, for the drug Efavirenz, in 2007, the competent state laboratory to which the manufacturing was commissioned took almost three years to manage to start production. It is much faster and more efficient to negotiate a voluntary license with patent holders and have their assistance to start local manufacturing, as the Butantan Institute and Fiocruz did in this pandemic, and both have already spoken out against the widespread patent breaking that is being considered.
How do you see the Brazilian position on this issue in international forums?
GL: Consistent and realistic. The Brazilian position, released on May 7th, 2021, in an official note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is to share the goal of “providing safe and efficient vaccines to the largest number of people possible, in the shortest possible time”, and work “with all the members of the WTO to build a consensual and cooperative solution that makes it possible to accelerate the production and dissemination of vaccines against Covid-19 in the shortest possible time”. The position is consistent because it is essential for the goal of joining the OECD that Brazil respects property rights. And it is responsible because it recognizes that only a consensus solution, that is, a voluntary one, will produce the desired effect, of making the production of vaccines viable as soon as possible.
How can intellectual property be a solution to fight the pandemic? What is the recommended instrument?
GL: Strengthening and respecting the patent system is the only effective way to stimulate innovation. Only with research stimulated by the patent system is it possible to achieve advances in medicine to protect the world population, not only in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic but also of future pandemics. Compulsory licensing is a legitimate instrument provided for in intellectual property legislation, which ensures balance to the patent system, and it can and should punctually, but only when there is no better alternative to ensure the population’s access to health.