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Big Pharma failing to share coronavirus vaccine know-how with Africa

By Camille Lafrance
Posted on Thursday, 10 June 2021 19:27

Stephane Bancel, Moderna’s CEO, in November 2017. Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg/Getty

Despite numerous pleas for equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, large laboratories have still not budged, according to NGOs and international institutions.

The Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), which was launched in May 2020 by the WHO, has been endorsed by 40 countries, UN programmes and NGOs. This platform promotes open access to scientific and technological knowledge, and has called on vaccine developers to share their intellectual property, knowledge and data. However, it has not proven successful.

“Laboratories have not demonstrated much solidarity,” says researcher Nathalie Ernoult, who works for the humanitarian organisation Médecins sans Frontières (MSF). “This is why South Africa and India filed an appeal at the WHO in October 2020 to temporarily lift intellectual property rights, which creates political pressure to reopen discussions on C-TAP.”

An impact on production targets?

On 16 April, the WHO launched the MRNA transfer hub, which is designed to speed up vaccine production in low- and middle-income countries. However, the big laboratories remain unconvinced.

For instance, “70% of vaccine manufacturing is based on quality and safety control,” says Thomas Cueni, director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (Ifpma). “No company wants to let this slip through its fingers without being able to check that its partner is competent.”

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s CEO, agrees.

“Covax remains the best way to ensure maximum access to vaccines. We don’t have the resources to divert our engineering teams to more technology transfer. This would have an impact on our production targets and therefore on the spread of the virus,” he says.

However, Ernoult believes that “earlier-stage pharmaceutical companies may start sharing information in exchange for support in finalising the development and registration of their product.”

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