U.S. Licenses COVID Medical Technology to WHO, Taking Belated Steps to a Better Future

WASHINGTON, D.C.President Joe Biden announced today during remarks opening the Global COVID Summit that the U.S. is licensing publicly-owned medical technologies including the stabilized spike protein for use by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), through the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). The 11 licensed technologies include COVID vaccine candidates, diagnostics, and research tools. Public Citizen first showed that most leading COVID vaccine manufacturers were depending on National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) spike protein technology in Nov. 2020. In 2010, the U.S. government provided the first patent license to the then-newly formed MPP for an HIV drug co-invented by the U.S. That license helped galvanize pharmaceutical company participation in the pool, contributing to expanded treatment access in low- and middle-income countries. Peter Maybarduk, Access to Medicines director at Public Citizen, released the following statement:

“Public funding and public science saved millions of lives by accelerating the development of COVID vaccines, including through use of NIH’s stabilized spike protein technology. Most of the leading COVID vaccine manufacturers relied on the NIH’s approach to the spike protein. Since then, extreme shortages and medical apartheid have contributed to countless deaths. Now, by sharing technology with WHO, the U.S. is taking belated steps to a better future.

“Early in the pandemic, WHO and many developing countries put forward the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, a program for sharing medical technology, so that researchers and manufacturers could help make available to people everywhere tests, treatment, and vaccine technology, and ultimately, improve on those medical tools. President Biden, at last, acted today in support of WHO’s vision.

“The announcement is a turn toward sharing not only doses, but knowledge, which is the difference between charity and justice. This path, if pursued with seriousness of purpose, can improve resilience to future pandemics and bring a measure of justice to a terribly unjust time.

“Today’s announcement is not a substitute for fully funding the global COVID response. The future practical benefit of today’s licensed technologies is uncertain. The U.S. has not indicated intent to require pharmaceutical firms to license technology, which would be necessary to facilitate production of many key medical tools.

“The U.S. government also is developing a pan-coronavirus vaccine at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, with hopes that it will prove effective against multiple variants and other coronaviruses. Today’s license does not include that vaccine, but it forges a path by which the U.S. could share this technology with humanity, as well.

“We commend these steps and call on the U.S. government to commit its full resources to this path.”