Coronavirus

Özlem Türeci: BionTech founder against release of vaccine patents

Pool / selection via getty images

Since US President Joe Biden announced that his government supported a patent release for corona vaccines, the international debate has picked up speed. French President Emmanuel Macron and the EU have also signaled their openness to this – but the German government is refusing to approve patents for vaccines.

Özlem Türeci, a co-founder of the German vaccine pioneer Biontech, also spoke out against patent approval in an interview with the US news broadcaster CNN. According to the scientist, this would not increase vaccine production in the short term.

Corona vaccine is the top-selling pharmaceutical product to date

“Patents are not a limiting factor for the production of our vaccine,” says Türeci. In fact, “the production process includes 50,000 steps that must be followed accurately to ensure the quality and safety of the vaccine.” Special production facilities, trained personnel and sufficient materials are required. Suspending patent protection is a bad idea, she says when asked by the moderator.

Many experts share this assessment and do not believe that the patent release would increase global production capacities in the short term. Patent law is also about the protection of intellectual property, one of the fundamental rights in a market economy: no company would pursue the expensive and time-consuming development of a vaccine if they could not make a profit from it in the end.

Rather, it must be a matter of the vaccine developers keeping their patent rights and training their partners worldwide in the manufacture of vaccines – for which these partners pay a license fee. This is the better way to expand global production, ensure the quality of the vaccine – and secure the economic interests of researching companies.

Corona vaccines are already the top-selling drugs

This position is also represented by the federal government, which also has an interest in ensuring that the biontech know-how remains in Germany. The Mainz-based company has become one of the country’s most important pharmaceutical companies through the development of its vaccine.

Should corona vaccinations become part of everyday life in the medium or long term, the question could arise again whether companies should make billions in profits with them in the long term. According to the Handelsblatt, corona vaccines are already the top-selling drugs that the pharmaceutical industry has ever produced.

The rapid and successful development of the vaccine has already paid off for the founders of Biontech; The co-owner Ugur Sahin now has assets of $ 4.8 billion, according to Forbes, as the company’s value has risen.

Proponents of a patent release argue, however, that vaccine production would then be boosted worldwide. As long as patent protection applies, the composition and method of manufacture of vaccines are the intellectual property of those who invented them. For example, the Biontech vaccine may only be manufactured by the company itself or by partners who pay money for this license.

Supporters of the patent release argue that in the special situation of the pandemic, in which there is still a great shortage of vaccines worldwide, vaccines should be common property – and must be produced everywhere. For ethical reasons, it is also unacceptable that individual pharmaceutical companies generate billions in profits through the development and sale of vaccines.

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