By Yuka Hayashi 

WASHINGTON -- The Biden administration said it would back a proposal at the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines to help speed up global production.

Developing nations led by India and South Africa have been pushing for the waiver, saying it is needed to stem the coronavirus pandemic. The waiver is also supported by more than 100 members of Congress.

Pharmaceutical companies and other business groups have opposed the waiver, however, saying it wouldn't supply short-term supply production problems because contract producers lack certain needed technical knowledge.

U.S. Trade Representative Katehrine Tai said the administration's decision was based on the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic.

"The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines," Ms. Tai said,

Member nations of the WTO are discussing a proposal supported by over 100 developing nations calling for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights protection related to the "prevention, containment, or treatment" of Covid-19.

Until now, the U.S., other wealthy nations and the European Union have opposed the waiver, saying IP protection provides an important incentive for innovation to develop products to fight the current and future pandemics.

Ms. Tai said the support for the waiver is just one part of Washington's effort to get vaccines around the world quickly.

"As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the administration will continue to ramp up its efforts -- working with the private sector and all possible partners -- to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution," she said. "It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines."

Pfizer Inc., which collaborated with BioNTech SE on a Covid-19 vaccine, declined to comment. Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla said in an interview Tuesday that it doesn't make sense to share patents because it wouldn't lead to increased production of vaccine doses.

"It is so wrong," Mr. Bourla said of forcing the patent sharing. He said the limited supply of Covid-19 vaccines stems from how before the pandemic, there weren't any approved products using the new gene-based mRNA technology that is used in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Pfizer, he said, has been increasing its manufacturing capabilities to close that production gap for more than a year. Dictating the sharing of patents would discourage biotech companies from developing products for the next pandemic, he said.

Moderna Inc. last year said it wouldn't enforce patents related to its experimental Covid-19 vaccine while the pandemic continues and would be willing to license the patents to others after the pandemic.

Representatives for Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson didn't immediately respond to requests for comment, nor did the Pharma trade groups PhRMA and BIO.

Write to Yuka Hayashi at yuka.hayashi@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 05, 2021 16:36 ET (20:36 GMT)

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