Covid, what model to follow for research?

Paris, Tuesday 21 June 2022 – The COVID pandemic has cruelly exposed social health inequalities and the inability of rich countries to make research products available to the rest of the world. However, in times of pandemic, the universality of the struggle determines its success.

Benjamin Coriat, an economist at the Center for Economics at Sorbonne Paris Nord University, led a study that was recently presented at a meeting the organization organizedAFD*. This work analyzed the impact of different research, development and distribution models on access to public health goods.

His first observation is that the American model put in place for Covid has been very effective, but its implications are paradoxical. The effectiveness of this model, born in the 80s and reinforced by the threat of bioterrorist attacks (anthrax), relies on technology transfer, the transfer of rights to the private sphere (for a fee), which amounted to $ 30 billion for COVID end 2021. This is how two companies were hyperfinanced for nothing in return.

vaccine nationalism

But, paradoxically, the conditions did not allow universal distribution: the famous COVAX could not play its role because of “vaccine nationalism”: rich countries placed excessive orders to the detriment of others (then throwing away the expired surplus). We can therefore not stick to this model.

Second Observation: The elements of an alternative model are emerging to make healthcare products truly a “common good” (preferred term over the “global public good” that has existed but has not proven itself).

The prehistory could be the 1915 wartime US decision to force amalgamate military aviation. However, the companies were paid for their work. Continued after the war, this model benefited civil aviation.

everyone wins

The English initiative shows that another model is also possible: Public Research (Oxford) has signed an agreement with a company (AstraZeneca) subject to three conditions: local transfer of expertise, no exclusive intellectual property and low margins. This has made vaccination against Covid possible in many developing countries.

The must-have is arguably AntiCOV, a scientific collaboration in view of widespread adoption, a model that has proven itself for dual antimalarial therapies, for example.

When South Africa called for rights to be suspended in its fight against the pandemic, the European Union vetoed it. Many voices have been raised saying that the “common good” must exist in times of pandemic; Models show that it is possible to find the right mix of incentive and obligation to reward researchers and distribute products.

Model to be found urgently, as this pandemic is probably only the first in a series.

*French Development Agency

“Governing in times of pandemic; Make health products a global commons”.

dr Blandine Esquerre

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