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Intellectual Property


Drug and chemical firms relax patent controls for COVID-19 response

Gilead offers royalty-free licenses on remdesivir, consortium pledges not to prosecute IP violations done to fight the pandemic

by Craig A. Bettenhausen
May 15, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 19


The logo of the Open COVID Pledge reads, "IP Open Access Declaration Against COVID-19."
Credit: Open COVID-19 Pledge

Gilead Sciences has signed royalty-free license agreements allowing five generic drug firms to make and distribute its antiviral drug remdesivir in 127 countries. The targeted countries are low income or “face significant obstacles to healthcare access,” Gilead says.

Supplies of the drug are severely limited; as of January, Gilead was not regularly making it. The US gave emergency approval for remdesivir to treat COVID-19 at the end of April. The firm has since been ramping up output, with the goal of supplying 1 million treatment courses by the end of 2020. Gilead describes remdesivir production as “a long, linear chemical synthesis process that must be completed sequentially and includes several specialized chemistry steps and novel substances with limited global availability.”

The arrangement—with Cipla, Ferozsons Laboratories, Hetero, Jubilant Life Sciences, and Mylan—should increase global supply of remdesivir, Gilead says. In addition to rights to the drug, Gilead will share its manufacturing process.

The technology access will remain royalty-free until the World Health Organization says COVID-19 is no longer a global public health emergency or until another drug or vaccine is approved.

Separately, a group of science and tech companies, primarily in Japan, has promised not to enforce patents “against any activities whose purpose is stopping the spread of COVID-19, including diagnosis, prevention, containment and treatment.” More than 30 companies had made the Open COVID-19 Declaration as of May 13, including Ajinomoto, Canon, Fujitsu, Horiba, Konica Minolta, LSI Medience, Mitsubishi Electric, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Nikon, Rohm, Shimadzu, Suntory, Tanaka, and Teijin.

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