Ten COVID-19 vaccines seen by mid-next year, head of global pharma group says

Cropped hand wearing a nitrile glove holding a Covid-19 vaccine vial and a syringe
COVID-19 vaccine vial and a syringe. Getty Images

Ten COVID-19 vaccines could be available by mid-2021 if they win regulatory approval, however, their inventors need patent protection, the head of the global pharmaceutical industry group said on Friday.

The vaccines by Pfizer and BioNtech as well as Moderna and AstraZeneca show promising results in large clinical trials, but there is no question of ‘cutting corners’, according to Thomas Cueni, Director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA).

“So far 3 we have 3 out of 3 were hits. I would expect that we will see something similar with Johnson & Johnson, I would expect that we would see similar positive results with Novavax, and many others, Sanofi Pasteur, GSK are in there, Merck,” Cueni said.

Cueni told a Geneva news briefing that, ‘Big Pharma’ and biotech firms have heavily invested in research and development and in boosting manufacturing during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow them to roll out vaccine doses.

He stated that it would be a mistake to lift patent protection to allow compulsory licensing and try to make vaccines requiring such complex quality assurance without expert staff and quality control procedures.

“We will hopefully by the next summer have probably 10 vaccines which have proven their value. But all of them really need to be submitted by rigorous scientific scrutiny by the regulators,” Cueni said.

At the World Trade Organization (WTO), India and South Africa have proposed allowing a temporary waiver to allow compulsory licensing for patented products during the pandemic. The United States, European Union and Switzerland and others have rejected it, trade officials say.

Cueni, asked about the proposal, said: “For me, this questioning of IP is really primarily politics, but it’s politics which is not helpful because it would send very negative signals in terms of disrespect to the system which allowed the world to react so fast and so responsibly.”

Vaccine manufacturing plants often need 50 quality assurance staff making hundreds of checks during production, he said, emphasizing that the companies would not exploit the pandemic.

IFPMA archives showed there had never been a compulsory license granted for a vaccine and pointed to the difficult technology and know-how, according to Cueni.

Nearly every member company had committed to “not-for-profit” or socially responsible pricing during the pandemic, he added.