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MSF joins calls for UK government to prevent big pharma profiteering from COVID-19

A wide group of international aid and development organisations and academics has today urged the UK government to ensure that any COVID-19 vaccines developed with UK taxpayers’ money are produced ‘patent-free’ to prevent big pharma corporations profiteering from them. 

The open letter is signed by more than 20 organisations, including MSF Access Campaign, MSF UK, Global Justice Now, Oxfam GB and Save the Children UK.

In it, the group commends the government’s £250 million-plus research funding for a COVID-19 vaccine but warns that without safeguards, big pharma could monopolise access to any resulting drugs, setting a price unaffordably high and preventing billions of people from receiving it. 

"This money cannot be handed to pharmaceutical companies with no strings attached. Conditions must be added to these funds to ensure that there are no patents or profiteering on any future COVID-19 vaccine."
Vickie HawkinsMSF UK Executive Director

The letter calls on the UK government to guarantee equitable access to any new drug by imposing strict public interest conditions on all UK funding.

It also supports a proposal from the President of Costa Rica for a ‘global patent pool’, which would allow all technologies designed for the detection, prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19 to be openly available, making it impossible for any one company or country to monopolise them.

The signing organisations and academics also call on the UK government to use its powers to override patents on any technologies that are potentially useful for tackling COVID-19, a step already being considered by governments including Germany, Chile, and Ecuador. 


Ensure access and affordability

While essential medicines, like a potential vaccine for COVID-19, are regularly developed with huge amounts of public funding, corporations manufacture the final medicines and claim intellectual property protection over them, allowing them to charge whatever price they want.

This prevents huge numbers of people from accessing vital medicines and adds substantially to the costs of public healthcare systems that must purchase them, including the NHS. It also prevents collaboration in the research of medicines as businesses are not transparent in their development of drugs. 

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"The UK is putting millions of pounds of public money into global efforts to finding a vaccine for COVID-19. This money cannot be handed to pharmaceutical companies with no strings attached," said Vickie Hawkins, Executive Director of MSF UK. "Conditions must be added to these funds to ensure that there are no patents or profiteering on any future COVID-19 vaccine.

“We know from our past experiences all over the world what it means not to have the right medical tools to save people's lives. Any successful vaccine resulting from public funding must not be limited to commercial interests and has to be made available to all during this pandemic.

"We have to stop putting the economic interests of pharmaceutical companies above people’s health. This needs to start now."

Responding to a global challenge

"COVID-19 is a global problem. Everyone in the world needs to be able to benefit from a vaccine when it’s developed, otherwise, we will not contain this disease and it will recur," said Nick Dearden, Director of Global Justice Now.

"Sadly, the current pharmaceutical system is not fit for purpose and unless governments take action there’s every chance that the drugs we develop will not be affordable to people across the world.

"Today, we're telling the UK government to put strict conditions on its research funding, ensuring that when a COVID-19 vaccine is produced, it is available to all. We cannot allow the profits from this vaccine to line the pockets of big pharma's shareholders while billions of people are unable to benefit from it."

The full signatories to the open letter are:

Global Justice Now, STOPAIDS, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access Campaign and MSF UK, Oxfam, Save the Children UK, CAFOD, Health Poverty Action, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, RESULTS UK, TranspariMED, We Own It, Just Treatment, Transparency International Health Initiative, Primary Care International, Frontline AIDS, Equality Trust, Youth Stop AIDS, Salamander Trust, People’s Health Movement UK, Medact Students for Global Health, ACT UP London, PrEPster, Professor Francesco Checchi - Professor of Epidemiology & International Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Dr. Andrew Hill - Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool, Dr. Mohga Kamal-Yanni MPhil. MBE - Global Health and Access to Medicines Consultant.

For more information, contact the MSF UK press team.