Pfizer CEO: Waving IP rights will "derail" vaccine progress

May 10, 2021

Following last week's announcement that the U.S. will support waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla penned a letter voicing his concerns.

In an open letter to Pfizer employees posted on the company's website, Bourla explained why he thinks the proposed waiver will derail vaccine progress, creating a disruption in the flow of raw materials.

"It will unleash a scramble for the critical inputs we require in order to make a safe and effective vaccine. Entities with little or no experience in manufacturing vaccines are likely to chase the very raw materials we require to scale our production, putting the safety and security of all at risk," said Bourla.

The controversial proposal was first introduced before the World Trade Organization last October by South Africa and India, who asked the WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council to waive protections of the agreement for some patents and technology in order to help less wealthy nations combat COVID-19.

The pharma industry has actively urged the Biden administration to reject the WHO proposal, arguing that dropping IP protections will not solve a global vaccine access problem.

Pfizer, which aims to provide to the world more than 2.5 billion doses of its vaccine, co-developed with BioNTech, in 2021, claims it urged countries to pre-order vaccines from the start.

"When we developed our tiered pricing policy, we reached out to all nations asking them to place orders so we could allocate doses for them. In reality, the high-income countries reserved most of the doses. I became personally concerned with that and I reached out to many heads of middle/low-income countries by letter, phone and even text to urge them to reserve doses because the supply was limited. However, most of them decided to place orders with other vaccine makers either because mRNA technology was untested at that time or because they were offered local production options," said Bourla.

Still, the drugmaker feels it can ramp up production to get vaccines to the countries that need them — but not if it has to compete for raw materials.

"Currently, infrastructure is not the bottleneck for us manufacturing faster. The restriction is the scarcity of highly specialized raw materials needed to produce our vaccine," said Bourla.