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10 July 2020BiotechnologyMuireann Bolger

LSPN Connect: When IP and COVID-19 meet

The COVID-19 pandemic poses unprecedented challenges to the biomedical community as it strives to find the best solutions to fight COVID-19.

It also poses challenges with our daily working lives amid strange and unsettling times, as an LSPN Connect broadcast discovered on July 7, during a discussion with an IP academic and a senior manager at a med-tech startup.

Jakob Wested, a post-doctorate researcher at the  University of Copenhagen’s Centre for Advanced Studies in Biomedical Innovation Law (CeBIL) joined  LSPN Connect to explain how IP had a balance to strike between maintaining incentives for innovation and providing fair access to treatments.

During the session, hosted by  World IP Review group editor Tom Phillips, Wested also discussed questions around how IP Law can have a positive impact on how we deal with COVID-19.

He said: “The immediate benefit of IP in this situation is that it functions as a source of knowledge sharing. The second function is that it also provides us with a mechanism to exchange that knowledge, and a mechanism where we can trade and have more effective use of resources,  which is extremely important in this situation.”

He added that while there had always been discussion around the quality of the patent system, the European Patent Office had done a lot to provide guidance and introduce initiatives to promote better knowledge sharing and patent pooling to help tackle the pandemic.

Wested added there is scope for the use of “second medical use patents”, but there were questions around the strength of the patents when looking to repurpose drugs. He added that a key issue was the abiding impression in the marketplace that these patents weren’t particularly strong.

He added he was optimistic about the potential for the options for combinations of existing drugs due to existing regulations and pointed that this approach was used in solutions to combat the HIV crisis.

“It is worth noting that we have not got rid of HIV yet, we can treat people with HIV and keep them healthy but we can’t get rid of the virus. Quite frankly we don’t know about corona and what will happen,” he said.

Wested also addressed the question of patent pooling and said that while there were “goodwill” attitudes toward this solution, there were concerns about the dangers of a “nationalistic bias” that may deter the rollout of a vaccine worldwide, and suggested there could be future scope to come up with some more solutions.

He said: “The issue of access is going to be more pressing when a vaccine comes around, and how we strike the balance is going to be difficult. The answer is institutional, we need to have some international organisations taking charge so it is not just every country for themselves. The question is not patent-oriented, it is more institutional.”

“When those institutions are built and working and functioning, it will be easier to have more international collaboration. But they were not in place when this pandemic hit us, so therefore we have not seen a ‘best scenario’ level of collaboration,” he said.

Rebecca Lin, vice-president of strategy and global business development at  Potrero, a medical devices company,  joined the session to explore business perspectives during COVID-19, including how teams can best adapt to the  “new normal”.

She said that her company’s immediate focus was to ensure the delivery of products and services to clients, including hospitals. “The first thing we tried to see how we could keep training and communicating with our clients and help them implement new technology,” Lin said.

She added that her team had developed products in six weeks, in a process that would normally take six months, and worked around the clock to ensure the levels of high quality were maintained. Her team also created webinars to help hospital teams understand the technology.

Communication and maintaining staff morale is really important during this time, she added.

“We lost a lot of communication with people not working in the office, so we have a [virtual] meeting every morning with several different functions, to clearly communicate our goals and  discuss how we can help the business.”

She also committed to “checking the temperatures” of employees’ mental health. “People are isolated in their own house... and we have to understand our employees and ensure they have support. We try to show our appreciation and have tried to increase this during the pandemic. We try to keep really tight with each other, to show that we are in this together, if not physically,” she said.

LSPN Connect is the membership programme for the Life Sciences—to watch on this session and for more information on joining, visit  www.lspnconnect.com

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