Top federal health officials said Thursday that they intended to begin offering low and middle-income nations access to the technology developed by government scientists that might be used to prevent or treat Covid-19. They did not specify which technologies might be included, but hinted that the policy could eventually apply to the Moderna vaccine if the Biden administration won a patent dispute with the company.
President Biden’s health secretary, Xavier Becerra, and his top medical adviser for the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, made the comments to reporters after a meeting with health ministers from around the world. Mr. Biden is preparing to convene his second global summit on Covid-19, expected sometime in the coming weeks.
Dr. Fauci said the National Institutes of Health had already “offered to license several N.I.H.-owned technologies” to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, known as C-TAP, which the health organization describes as a “global one-stop shop” for drug developers to share their intellectual property. The technologies would then be made available to the Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed public health organization that works to increase access to medicines in poor and middle-income nations.
Mr. Biden has been under intense pressure from activists and W.H.O. officials to do more to press the pharmaceutical industry to share its technology with the world. The new policy, officials say, will enable poor nations to manufacture inexpensive vaccines and therapeutics that are developed in the United States.
But there is a big catch: Dr. Fauci would not be specific about which technologies would be licensed and could not say if Moderna’s powerful coronavirus vaccine — developed in partnership with N.I.H. scientists — would be among them, he said.
That is because the company and the government are locked in a bitter dispute over who deserves credit for inventing the central component of the vaccine, which grew out of a four-year collaboration between Moderna and the N.I.H., the government’s biomedical research agency. The N.I.H. has been in talks with Moderna for more than a year to try to resolve the disagreement, which has broad implications for the vaccine’s long-term distribution and billions of dollars in future profits.
Dr. Fauci said the negotiations were continuing, but both he and Mr. Becerra strongly suggested that if the government won that dispute and gained ownership of the crucial patent, it would work to include the Moderna technology in its offerings.
“President Biden has made it very clear that he wishes to assert all his authorities to make sure that we use everything at our disposal” to make medicines available to those who need them, Mr. Becerra said, adding that “it should be no surprise” that “we’re going to push the envelope where the law allows us.”
Dr. Fauci said: “I just would repeat, in principle — and you can take from it what you will — that in principle we have offered to license N.I.H.-owned technologies to the C-TAP for the purposes of the Medicines Patents Pool. So whatever it is that we can do, we will do.”
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