As the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine accelerates, the pharmaceutical industry is taking care not to set a dangerous precedent that could weaken its future intellectual property rights, a senior executive at IHS Markit said Thursday.
The World Health Organization released an update this week on the potential vaccine candidates that are being developed for Covid-19. There are currently 21 vaccine candidates in clinical trials, which means that they will be tested on volunteers. Three are reported to be in the third phase of these trials.
"Pharmaceutical companies are sure to be very careful about developing vaccines for Covid-19," said Milena Izmirlieva, director of life science research at IHS Markit, in CNBC's Squawk Box Asia.
She said that future Covid-19 vaccines were required to be treated as a public good, which would mean that they would be made available to everyone at no profit.
"This suggests that policymakers understand that intellectual property rights for a vaccine that has been successfully developed in the future could possibly be weakened," she said, adding "that the price would be at a level that allows it to be widely used on a global scale. "
The UK-based pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech and the US biotech company Moderna are the most advanced companies in the development of their vaccine candidates.
Research and development for potential vaccines is expensive and risky, especially if a candidate fails during clinical trials. Intellectual property rights and patents that enable exclusivity and price control are fundamental to the pharmaceutical industry, as they enable companies to conduct costly research with the promise of future profits.
"So this concept of the common good could potentially trigger warning bells for the pharmaceutical industry," said Izmirlieva. She said the sector still had a lot of investment commitments to buy a vaccine that would allow it to start manufacturing despite the risks.
"I think the industry has currently preferred not to set a dangerous precedent for weakening intellectual property rights. I think it was preferred to find alternative manufacturing methods that would allow some low and middle income countries to access a vaccine relatively quickly, "she added.
As an example of such alternatives, Izmirlieva cited AstraZeneca's license agreement with the Serum Institute of India to deliver one billion doses of Oxford University's potential Covid-19 vaccine AZD1222 to low and middle income countries.