More than 250 public interest groups on Thursday urged global cooperation as scientists around the world work to develop treatments and a vaccine for the coronavirus, warning against "nationalistic" or monopoly-based responses to the pandemic which has spread to at least 177 countries and killed more than 186,000 people worldwide.
Public Citizen was joined by 254 groups including Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, and Indivisible in calling on world governments to abide by several key principles as they search for medical breakthroughs to treat people diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and for a vaccine.
"There is real danger that access to medical breakthroughs addressing COVID-19 will be restricted by nation, by price, by limited production and fragmented supply lines, and by exclusivity and commercial confidentiality. We must prevent this—and help change medical innovation, health, and nationalism." —254 public interest groups
"Open science, ramped-up manufacturing, fair pricing, and sharing of technology" must guide all efforts to develop effective treatments, the groups wrote—rather than secrecy and competition between countries.
"There is a grave danger that research efforts will be stymied and access for many patients to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines will be delayed by limited manufacturing capacity, commercial secrecy, and monopolies on key medical technologies, as well as by hostility to global cooperation," said Public Citizen in a statement.
Last month, the New York Times reported that efforts to combat the virus have become a "global arms race," with "China, Europe, and the United States...[setting] off at a sprint to become the first to produce a vaccine" and President Donald Trump reportedly telling American pharmaceutical executives that a vaccine must be produced on U.S. soil to control the supply chain.
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"There is real danger that access to medical breakthroughs addressing COVID-19 will be restricted by nation, by price, by limited production and fragmented supply lines, and by exclusivity and commercial confidentiality. We must prevent this—and help change medical innovation, health, and nationalism," reads the open letter.
The groups urged pharmaceutical companies and governments to commit to following four basic principles:
- Innovation for all, with technology owners committing patents, trade secrets, know-how, cell lines, copyright, software, data, and all other relevant intellectual property to the public domain
- Access for all, ensuring diagnostics, treatments, devices, vaccines, and personal protective equipment are priced fairly and affordably to healthcare payers and are free to the public at the point of care in all countries.
- Solidarity and global cooperation, including coordination with the World Health Organization to organize platforms for the public sharing of data and intellectual property to rapidly scale-up production and mitigate shortages.
- Good governance and transparency, with funders and technology developers ensuring that costs related to research, manufacturing, and pricing are published transparently.
The letter comes a month after a pressure campaign led by Public Citizen forced the drug manufacturer Gilead Sciences to withdraw a monopoly claim for remdesivir, a drug which is being tested as a possible treatment for COVID-19.
The drug's status as an "orphan drug," usually reserved for medications that treat very rare diseases, would have limited access for many patients.
"Health is a human right. Medical knowledge is a public good," wrote the groups on Thursday. "No one should be left behind."