Could the coronavirus lead to a reassessment of vaccine patent laws?

Coronavirus vaccine development.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of India's Serum Institute, is working to mass-produce a low-cost coronavirus vaccine for the entire world, but the pharmaceutical industry and intellectual property laws remain hurdles, Politico reports.

Poonawalla is hoping the urgency of the pandemic leads to a reassessment of patent laws, which he says limit access to immunizations in developing countries while driving up prices in wealthier ones. "If you don't allow, for example, an Indian producer to sell in the U.S. because of some stupid rules and regulations, even though the product is identical to the U.S. product, you're going to have a supply situation," he told Politico. "And guess what. When you've got a low supply and high demand, what happens to the price? It skyrockets."

The Serum Institute does have a deal with AstraZaneca in which it will produce millions of doses of AstraZaneca's coronavirus vaccine candidate. If approved, Poonawalla's doses will be manufactured for use in India and poorer nations. But he doesn't want to stop there — he's working with Washington to enter the U.S. market at a low price and find away around strict patent and importation rules strengthened by the pharmaceutical industry's relationship with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

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Not everyone agrees with Poonawalla's vision of the future, however. Paul Fehlner, a former IP lawyer for Novartis, told Politico that while critics of Big Pharma's patents "act like this stuff is trivial," in reality they're the result of PhD students working for months and years, which Fehlner believes makes the developments "worthy" of legal protection. Read more about Poonawalla and the future of pharmaceutical patents at Politico.

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