Big Pharma may need to disclose government agreements in WHO’s draft pandemic rules

By Jennifer Rigby and Emma Farge

LONDON (Reuters) – Pharmaceutical companies could be forced to disclose prices and deals agreed on for products they make to fight future pandemics, under new rules set by the World Health Organization and reviewed by Reuters.

A draft version of the WHO’s pandemic agreement, which it hopes will be adopted by the 194 member states of the UN health organization, calls for companies to disclose the terms of public tenders. [L1N32D1U4]

It says that government funding for vaccine and treatment development should be more transparent and include provisions to ensure that any resulting products are distributed evenly around the world.

The purpose of the pact, commonly known as the Pandemic Convention, is to prevent the next pandemic from becoming as devastating as COVID-19 and to improve the global response that has left many of the world’s poorest countries behind.

During the pandemic, many deals governments made with drug companies have been kept confidential, leaving them little room for holding drug makers accountable.

A WHO spokesman said it is member states who are steering the current process towards a new agreement.

“The process is open, transparent and with input from other stakeholders, including interested stakeholders and the public, comments can be submitted to public consultations.”

The agreement is at an early stage and is likely to change in the course of negotiations with Member States and other stakeholders. The concept will be presented to them in full in a meeting on Friday, after being circulated earlier in the week.

The document is vague about what would happen if countries that sign up don’t follow the rules and if companies don’t follow them. The UN agency cannot force companies to follow its rules.

The proposal may also face resistance from the drug industry following the fast-paced race to develop vaccines and treatments, which were critical tools in containing the virus that has killed more than 6.5 million people worldwide.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca have been testing, developing and launching vaccines less than a year after the virus first emerged in China in December 2019.

Thomas Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), said the draft was an “important milestone” but added that it was important not to undermine the way pharmaceutical companies innovate and to protect their intellectual property (IP).

The draft recognizes the importance of IP, but says there should be better mechanisms for sharing expertise so that more companies can produce vaccines and medicines during a crisis.

“If the draft were executed as written today, it would undermine rather than facilitate our collective ability to quickly develop and scale countermeasures,” Cueni added.

The draft document also proposes a peer review mechanism to assess the preparedness of countries for a pandemic, as well as better universal health coverage, more domestic funding for preventing and addressing pandemics, and better access for WHO to identify the origin of outbreaks. to research.

Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown Law in Washington D.C. who follows the WHO, said the accord could be a game changer and end the “undesirable” hoarding of vaccines during COVID-19.

“The design is actually far-reaching and bold – the obstacles, however, are political opposition and industry backlash,” he said.

LONG WAY FORWARD

The treaty has been described by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strengthen global health rules.

The UN Constitution grants the agency significant powers to negotiate international agreements, but it has done so only once in its 74-year history in the form of the 2005 Tobacco Convention.

Negotiations on the pact began in February and a major step was taken in July when the countries agreed to make the new agreement legally binding, despite previous reservations from Washington. The next formal board meeting is in December, but there is still a long way to go: the agreement is not expected to be passed until 2024 at the earliest.

“Some of the upcoming discussions are going to be awkward,” said a Western diplomat, referring to issues of intellectual property and price transparency.

But they said there was genuine interest in getting an agreement with some major powers. “There is a hunger to explore the problems, even the difficult ones.”

(Writing by Jennifer Rigby; Editing by Josephine Mason and Elaine Hardcastle)

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