Covid 19 research and IP in SE Asia

As research work on vaccines and treatments worldwide speeds up, SEA is taking part in various trials. See here for previous reports on concerns about access to Covid treatments. 

There are a dozen or so candidates to prevent or treat COVID-19 now in clinical trials. These include preventative vaccine candidates (like Oxford University’s ChAdOxInCoV19 or Pfizer’s BNT162), as well as various existing and new drugs for treating the disease (e.g. Gilead’s Remdesivir or Zhejiang Hisun’s Favipravir), as well as generics like Dexamethasone. 

Nearly 2,000 trials are ongoing worldwide now. Data in late July indicated nearly 30 in SE Asia, with Thailand leading with at 8 trials following by Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Trials are hugely expensive and the majority fail at some point. The key to speed is the global coordination by WHO to avoid duplication of the same work. 

The majority of the work is re-purposing existing drugs.  The challenge with that is where there may be patent protection for these drugs.  A number of the older ones, including Tenofovir (another Gilead drug) have expired in many countries.  Another problem is second medical use patents, which are not consistently treated around the world or in SE Asia. Indonesia has also recently brought in new rules on compulsory licensing (report to follow) aimed to allow medical emergencies to override patents. 

There is no suggestion anyone will use IP to prevent access to Covid treatments. The race is on and it is useful to understand the IP background since the issue will need to be considered at some point.