Instead of being sidetracked by the debate on waiving patents on COVID vaccines, the EU must come up with a new pharma strategy and strengthen its pharmaceutical industry, writes Pernille Weiss.
Pernille Weiss is a member of the European Parliament for the EPP.
A few weeks ago, I got my first jab with a COVID19-vaccine. My parents have both got theirs.
More and more of us will get that experience in the months to come, and I guess that this feeling is quite similar to the way our ancestors felt when the Penicillin, insulin or HIV medicine was invented. They were a long time in the making.
The vaccine against COVID-19 came with express speed. Against the clock and against all previous experience. Because we wanted to, and especially because the pharma industry was ready to throw billions into what could prove impossible or cost even more time and money.
We must also have that opportunity in the future. Facing any health challenge that kills both people and society.
Right now, our challenge is to get the production up and running so that everyone can be offered a vaccine as quickly as possible. Especially people in countries where the mutations are developing and in countries that cannot afford the investment that we in the EU, among others, has been able to.
Therefore, the solution is not to dissolve the vaccine patents and force the pharmaceutical companies to share their vaccine recipe with others, as the far left and now also US President Joe Biden suggests.
The patents and production capacity have nothing to do with each other, except that those who propose it reveal that they have understood nothing about the natural cycle of health innovation. A cycle that requires huge investments in projects, no one knows will turn out useful.
Here, the patents serve as an instrument to earn the money back that one has invested, which creates the ability for the company to develop even more new medicine – better and faster.
The idea that the forced dissolution of patents can knock production up and save the whole world is beautiful in all its naive essence – but it is also extremely dangerous.
What do we do the next time the world is in need of a vaccine, or other vital medicine, but the pharmaceutical industry has either lost its willingness to invest or has moved to another continent where conditions are fairer?
A continent that, like the United States, imposes an export ban, so that we in Europe cannot get the medicine we have to order ourselves, because we do not have more pharmaceutical companies left in Europe.
No, instead we must strengthen the European pharmaceutical industry and a new pharma strategy.
During the COVID-19 crisis, it has become clear how countries such as the United States and China are leading in this area. This is partly due to the fact that they spend more money in research, have more favourable patent rights and the road to approval is not as unnecessarily long and winding as it is in the EU.
We must dare to invest in the entire cycle – from those who develop the products in the laboratory to those who produce, pack, and post them worldwide.
It is estimated that such an approach will attract up to 800,000 new jobs, just as it will be a stable source of income for the countries that house the companies.
Compulsory dissolution of patents is a bit like eating with one hand and striking with the other. No one has ever been motivated by that.