Laura Gunter: Biotech policies must protect patients, innovation | Chroniclers
The ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role of North Carolina’s life science industry in tackling our most serious public health threats. Faced with the threat of COVID-19, biotech companies – many of which are based here in North Carolina – have answered the call and quickly developed safe and effective vaccines, tests and treatments. Rising vaccination rates – in the United States and abroad – and continued investment in innovation remain a priority for North Carolina’s life science ecosystem. Unfortunately, policymakers are currently examining proposals that will hamper our ability to respond effectively to COVID-19 and future pandemics.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an international body that helps regulate international trade. When the WTO meets later this month, one of its priorities will be to help ensure equity in access to vaccines for developing countries. One of the proposals the WTO will consider is the waiver of trade-related aspects of international property rights (TRIPS) of intellectual property (IP) protections for COVID-19 vaccines, which would allow manufacturers and developers to other countries manufacture and sell the patented products of US companies.
While the decision whether or not to remove legal protections from American businesses will be made halfway around the world, there will be significant consequences for all North Carolinians. Ensuring equitable distribution and access to COVID-19 vaccines in other countries is essential to stop the spread of the pandemic. Allowing the virus to thrive in other countries creates more opportunities for variants to emerge and end up infecting people here. However, there is no evidence that these IP protections currently constitute an obstacle to vaccination.
But what we do know will happen if the WTO removes IP protections for COVID-19 vaccines is a decrease in innovative treatments and cures. Removing intellectual property protections removes the financial incentive for biopharmaceutical manufacturers to collaborate with other members of the industry and the US government, which is critical to successful vaccine development. In addition, the removal of legal protections for these vaccines sets a dangerous precedent for future research and development of treatments for diseases affecting many North Carolinians and their families, including cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and many other chronic, rare and life-threatening diseases. – threatening diseases. Companies in North Carolina will not only have fewer resources to invest in innovative research, but they will also be less likely to undertake risky research if no safeguards are in place to help them recoup their investment once the investments are made. products will be marketed. The necessary venture capital will not flow into an industry where the risk is so high without a clear reward opportunity.
Without intellectual property protection, North Carolina businesses will lose the incentives to innovate as well as the capital and support needed to research, develop and commercialize the latest drugs, technological advancements, and more. North Carolina is one of 15 states in the country that generate between $ 5 billion and $ 15 billion annually in research and development. In addition, our state is home to three Tier 1 research universities and over 600 life science companies employing over 60,000 North Carolina residents. Impressively, our state is one of the biggest contributors at the national level to research and development. However, to continue this work, we need the support of federal lawmakers.
Vaccines are one of the best public health tools we have for stopping the spread of infectious diseases, and ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines is essential to stopping the spread of the pandemic. As policymakers – including the WTO and the US Congress – consider ways to improve access to vaccines, we urge them to pursue policies that address the real barriers to vaccine uptake and reject policies such as the TRIPS waiver that threaten North Carolina’s life sciences ecosystem, which is a major engine of jobs in the state, and which will be at the forefront of the fight against next pandemic we are facing.
Laura Gunter, MBA, is president of NCBIO, the North Carolina Biosciences Organization.