EXPLAINER: Why patents on COVID vaccines are so contentious
The Biden administration’s call to lift patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help poor parts of the world get more doses has drawn praise from some countries and health advocates. But it has run into resistance from the pharmaceutical industry and others, who say it won’t help curb the outbreak any time soon and will hurt innovation.
Here’s a look at what patents do and why they matter:
HOW DO DRUG PATENTS WORK?
Patents reward innovation by preventing competitors from simply copying a company’s discovery and launching a rival product. In the U.S., patents on medicines typically last 20 years from when they are filed, which is usually done as soon as a drugmaker thinks it has an important or lucrative drug. Because it often takes a decade to get a drug approved, companies typically end up with about a dozen years of competition-free sales. But drugmakers usually find ways to improve their product or widen its use, and they secure additional patents that can extend their monopoly for another decade or more.
WHY IS PATENT PRODUCTION SO IMPORTANT TO DRUGMAKERS?
Medicines are incredibly expensive to develop. Most experimental drugs fail at some point during what can be years of laboratory, animal and finally human testing. Averaging in the cost of all those flops, it typically costs more than $1 billion to bring a drug from discovery to regulatory approval. Without the prospect of years of sales without competition, that work is all the more risky.
WHY IS THE U.S. BACKING EFFORTS TO LIFT PROTECTIONS ON COVID-19 VACCINES?
The Biden administration has been under intense pressure, including from many Democrats in Congress, to get more COVID-19 vaccines to the rest of the world. Support for the waiver idea floated by India and South Africa in October has been growing in...