The event, which was held under the Chatham House Rule, built on the longstanding relationship between the WTO Secretariat and the IGBA and the collaborative efforts by the WTO with leading vaccine manufacturers since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Participants acknowledged the important role of generic/biosimilars makers as part of the past pandemic-related discussions. This is particularly relevant at a time when the first approved COVID-19 treatments have been licensed to generic manufacturers through the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) and the focus has shifted from increased vaccines production to other areas, such as geographically diversified manufacturing, including as regards active pharmaceutical ingredients, and equitable access to therapeutics and diagnostics.
Participants noted the importance of industry collaboration, supported by licensing, transfer of technology and know-how, as well as the sharing of clinical trial data. They discussed issues around supply chains and how ensuring their smooth and open functioning is an absolute must to reduce trade costs and uncertainty in trade in order to ensure equal access to health technologies, both in crisis situations but also in normal times.
The discussions also touched upon a wide range of issues where greater co-operation would be beneficial. For instance, participants mentioned regulatory harmonization in support of global competition, the importance of demand forecast, and the need to promote health technology transfer to least developed countries, including through the effective implementation of Article 66.2 of the TRIPS Agreement.
While there was broad agreement on the importance of achieving a balance between intellectual property rights (IPRs) protection and access to medicines, various perspectives were shared on how to promote and support innovative activities and, at the same time, ensuring the dissemination and access to new technologies as a result of fair competition between originator and generic companies.
Participants agreed this first meeting represented the initial step towards an ongoing dialogue, which could take as source of inspiration the existing network between WTO, WHO, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and CEOs from the 10 main major vaccine manufacturers. Complemented by a group of experts to provide technical input, such networks could help to identify key trade-related challenges and support governments in addressing them.
Reference was also made to the WTO members’ efforts, supported by the Secretariat, to tackle the pandemic through a wide range of initiatives, including analysis and monitoring. For example, trade measures used to expedite access to COVID-19 critical medical goods and services in the early stage of the pandemic were compiled in a Secretariat information note. To assist Members to address supply chain and regulatory bottlenecks, the WTO Secretariat also prepared and updated an Indicative List of Trade-Related Bottlenecks and Trade-Facilitating Measures to Combat COVID-19.