HLC Opposes Expansion of TRIPS Intellectual Property Waiver to COVID-19 Diagnostics and Therapeutics

In Statement to U.S. International Trade Commission, Health Leaders Say Medical Innovation Likely to “Suffer and Shrink” by Weakening Protections

WASHINGTON – In a statement to the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC), which is conducting hearings on the question of waiving intellectual property rights to COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics under the TRIPS (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement, the Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC) said such a waiver is unnecessary in extending pandemic assistance to poorer countries and would only undermine future innovation.

The proposal to expand TRIPS waivers that currently encompass COVID-19 vaccines to include diagnostics and therapeutics is being considered by the World Trade Organization. In a letter to the USITC, HLC president Mary R. Grealy said such a move would only exacerbate the error made in weakening intellectual property rights on vaccines.

She wrote, “The initial June 2022 TRIPS waiver on COVID-19 vaccine IP set a precedent, marking a retreat from secure, reliable IP rights generally considered a cornerstone of innovative and economic progress.”  She pointed out that the vaccine waiver was unnecessary, in that global vaccine manufacturing and supply were and continue to be vastly outpacing global demand and that some poorer countries face storage, distribution and administration challenges that cannot be resolved through intellectual property waivers.

In opposing the expansion of the TRIPS waiver to diagnostics and therapeutics, she told the commission, “The United States stands to lose much from expansion of the TRIPS waiver. Not only biomedical, but other areas of invention, patents, and other forms of intellectual property, and emerging fields of technology would become less attractive to private investment. With weakened IP, high-risk, high-reward innovative efforts that take many years, such as medical innovation, are likely to suffer and shrink as a result of weakening TRIPS.”

Ms. Grealy added, regarding the broader health implications of a possible TRIPS waiver, “Many of the COVID-related drugs in development hold potential for usage for both this virus and other diseases. Researchers are exploring their effectiveness for treating cancers, Parkinson’s, and other illnesses. Waiving TRIPS threatens the ability to continue these lines of drug development. The situation has patients legitimately concerned about diminished future medical innovation. It is well understood that the TRIPS waiver likely contributes to a downward domino effect for the life sciences ecosystem, with human costs as a result.”


For Immediate Release: March 29, 2023
Contact: Kelly Fernandez, (202) 449-3452