Brazil and Argentina on favourable footing ahead of possible patent liberalisation

Both South American countries would be well positioned within the region in the face of the US proposal to release patents against COVID-19
Atalayar_COVID Argentia Brasil

REUTERS/AGUSTIN MARCARIAN  -   A shipment of doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Ezeiza International Airport, Buenos Aires, Argentina 28 January 2021

Joe Biden's administration changed its mind after pressure from several states for the US companies to release the patents, so the US president will support within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) the temporary suspension of patents on COVID-19 vaccines. The countries want the release of these patents so that they do not have to rely on regional vaccine distribution agreements and can start producing their own vaccines to immunise their populations as soon as possible. The patent allows vaccine producers an exclusive right to use and market the product, essentially a licence. If these patents are released, this exclusivity would cease to exist and they would be in the public domain, thus avoiding what many experts call the "pharmaceutical bureaucracy", which is an agreement between producers, pharmaceutical companies and states. Nor should it be thought that the release represents a free immunisation, no, certain conditions must be met first. 

 REUTERS/DADO RUVIC-Vaccine against Sputnik V coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Argentina is a country that in the short term would find it difficult to become a producer for this year, but it will be for the next few years when it continues to need to cover this global demand, against COVID-19. Brazil has been producing different vaccines for 30 years, and agreed with Russia that, with the arrival of the Sputnik V patent, the South American giant would become a producer, which it has not yet achieved. The release of patents does not mean the transfer of all technology from one country to the other, but it does mean that each country can produce its own dose against the coronavirus in a short period of time. 

A woman receives a dose of Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) vaccine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Tecnopolis Park in Buenos Aires. REUTERS/AGUSTIN MARCARIAN
REUTERS/AGUSTIN MARCARIAN-A woman receives a dose of Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) vaccine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Tecnopolis Park in Buenos Aires.

The Argentinean newspaper El Clarín interviewed Daniela Hozbor, coordinator of the Vaccinology Subcommittee of the Argentinean Association of Microbiology and senior researcher at Conicet, giving more details on the possible release of patents. Hozbor explains that such a release does not solve the problem of shortages, as this is a complex procedure: "You don't just say 'the vaccine has so many viral particles' and that's it, you have the vaccine. Or you say 'it has so much genetic material', and you have it. No. There is a procedure, knowledge and controls that require a country not only to have the vaccine factory but also the knowledge trained in these vaccine technologies. Within the diversity of COVID-19 vaccines, there are several platforms, which are traditions such as "inactivated virus", which refer to the techniques known before the pandemic, if the patents of the traditional ones are released, in this case there would be a better application in the manufacture of these countries.

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AFP/ RONALDO SCHEMIDT - A health worker administers a dose of Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 at the Centenario stadium in Quilmes, Buenos Aires province, on 1 April 2021.

In the case of Argentina, if the patents are released if it becomes a manufacturing state, over time, since it does not have a good production chain for just one vaccine, remember that Argentina produces the haemorrhagic fever vaccine, the double bacterial vaccine, and the BGC vaccine. "With COVID, this question of having the entire production chain, from start to finish, in the country, is a political decision. This is what we want to achieve and, in fact, we already have the production of the active ingredient (from AstraZeneca) in mAbxience. Also with the agreement to produce Sputnik V (for the moment, it only started with the active ingredient being received, formulated and fractionated). And also now with Sinopharm and Sinergium," Hozbor said. 

Thus, if Argentina really wants to become a producer country, as soon as possible, it must install the complete production chain for this dose in the country, and for the more complex vaccines, such as the coronavirus vaccine, the technology must be transferred to Argentina. 

Latin America Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra