September 21, 2021

Business as usual is unacceptable in a pandemic

 What are the obligations of pharmaceutical companies in a global health emergency?

Timely article by Ezequiel Emanuel et al. in The Lancet:

Pharmaceutical companies have special obligations in this emergency, which follow from their indispensable capacity to help to end the pandemic by developing, manufacturing, and distributing COVID-19 vaccines. However, the capacity to help alone does not fully specify companies’  obligations. Additionally, market-based arrangements, with patents, marketing exclusivity, and confidentiality clauses, give pharmaceutical companies the freedom to choose what treatments to research and develop, how to price and distribute their products, and whom to furnish with products through bilateral agreements.9 Indeed, companies need not produce vaccines or infectious disease therapies at all. Patents and exclusivity, alongside the absence of price controls or requirements for technology transfer, also permit companies to charge higher prices than they otherwise could.  Governments adopt intellectual property rights, limited pricing regulations (ie, each country has its own pricing, with no one countrycontrolling the pricing, at most being able to set limits on the prices that can be charged), trade agreements, and other limited  interventions (eg, manufacturing, inspections of facilities, etc) in the hope of incentivising the development, manufacturing, and distribution of socially valuable products. Everyone—including pharmaceutical companies— agrees that business as usual is unacceptable in a pandemic.

 Ethical obligations: