Out-Law News 1 min. read

Pharma companies urged to monitor WHO ‘pandemic treaty’ closely

Pharmaceutical companies should monitor the work of World Health Organization (WHO) officials who are developing a new international agreement to prevent, prepare for and respond to future pandemics, according to legal experts.

One of the main aims of the draft agreement, known as the ‘Pandemic Treaty’ (32 pages / 336KB PDF), is to ensure a more equitable distribution of pandemic-related products such as vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. A preliminary version of the treaty, published in February, acknowledged the “catastrophic failure of the international community in showing solidarity and equity” in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The draft treaty would commit signatory countries to address the “gross inequities that hindered timely access to medical and other Covid-19 pandemic response products” and prevent similar inequalities from occurring in future.

Intellectual property expert Marthe Riewald of Pinsent Masons said: “Although this is a draft, a Pandemic Treaty may have far-reaching consequences on pharmaceutical companies and their assets. At least 11 clauses in the draft’s preamble concern intellectual property, which can have a big impact on those involved with the research, development, production and supply of vaccines and their ingredients.”

“As a result, this agreement could have great implications for intellectual property rights holders, and it is therefore important for pharmaceutical companies to watch the development of the treaty closely,” Riewald added.

The Pandemic Treaty will now be negotiated, drafted, and debated by a newly-established Intergovernmental Negotiation Body (INB), headed by members from South Africa, Brazil, Egypt, the Netherlands, Thailand, and Japan. The INB aims to present a final draft of the treaty for approval at the 77th World Health Assembly (WHA) in May 2024.

Stefan van Kolfschooten of Pinsent Masons said: “The enactment of a Pandemic Treaty marks an important development in global health governance as WHO member states try to enhance preparedness and cooperation for future global health crises. The Pandemic Treaty would be only the second convention adopted under the WHO’s Article 19 authority, following the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, adopted two decades ago.”

He added: “Experts have suggested that the draft is likely to go through numerous modifications before reaching its final version. It is essential that the INB takes heed of the interests of the pharma industry and does not rush the process of enactment just to be ready before the next pandemic emerges.”

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