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COVID-19 drugs shortage: Is ‘compulsory licensing’ the way to go?

Updated : May 04, 2021 12:39:51 IST

Even as India remains in the grips of a fierce second COVID wave, the supply and price uncertainty around vaccine and key drugs continues. Against this backdrop, CNBC-TV18 takes a look at the case for compulsory licensing that will allow the manufacture, use and sale of patented products without the permission of the owner.

These licenses are issued only in the case of a "national" or "extreme" emergency and have several prerequisite conditions.

Speaking to CNBC-TV18, Murali Neelakantan, Principal Lawyer at Amicus said that there is a solution without having to resort to compulsory licensing. He believes that a practical and pragmatic solution is to ask manufacturers to produce vaccines.

“The provision we should be focusing on is Section 26(B) of the Drugs Act. This provision allows the government to direct manufacturers to produce specified drugs. In this case, the government could direct those who have facilities to produce the two vaccines that we have approved, it can direct manufacturers who can produce Tocilizumab and Remdesivir to produce these drugs,” he said.

“On Covaxin, the government owns the IP. So there is no IP issue. There is a solution for us without having to resort to compulsory licensing. It is the same with Covishield. All we have to do is direct manufacturers who have vaccine production capacities to produce Covishield,” he added.

Annaswamy Vaidheesh, Former MD of GlaxoSmithKline said that we need to be careful about the narrative on compulsory licensing. “I think we are focusing on a non-issue. We need to be careful about how we give a narrative about compulsory licensing. I think as a country we have done a great job of giving parallel licensing as a concept which is now being adopted on a global basis. The current Remdesivir shortage that we are talking about is just a fact that nobody anticipated this spike to happen. We have 7 companies that have a license to manufacture. So, I am not sure why we are going down this path of compulsory licensing,” he said.

Ramesh Swaminathan, ED & Global CFO at Lupin said that some injectable plants can be repurposed for vaccines. “Capacities can be created for the vaccine. You can repurpose existing plants – injectables plant can be done. It would take some investments, it could be done in a short whole. A new plant might take about 12 months,” he said.

For the full discussion, watch the video.
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