President Joe Biden said Thursday that the United States has licensed a key technology used in current vaccines against Covid-19 to the World Health Organization, which will allow manufacturers around the world to work with the global health agency to develop their own vaccines against virus.
The National Institutes of Health has licensed its technology for WHO Stabilized Pike Protein and the UN Patent Pool of Medicines, Biden said.
Spike protein is the component in vaccines that triggers an immune response, causing the body to fight the virus. NIH technology keeps proteins in a configuration that allows them to produce a more powerful immune response. The WHO and the Patent Pool for Medicines can now sublicense the technology of generic drug manufacturers around the world.
“We have health technologies available that are owned by the United States government, including stabilized peak protein, which is used in many Covid-19 vaccines,” Biden said.
The decision to share vaccine technology comes ahead of a virtual global summit on Covid-19, which the United States will co-host on Thursday. In a statement, the WHO said the license would make key technology available to people in low- and middle-income countries and help end the pandemic.
Although the technology shared by the United States is important, it is only one component of the vaccine and does not include the complete RNA code needed to make vaccines. NIH and Moderna, which are working together to develop a taxpayer-funded vaccine, are currently at loggerheads over a separate patent for the entire mRNA. Vaccines inject the mRNA code that directs human cells to produce harmless copies of the viral spike protein to elicit an immune response.
Negotiations between the NIH and Moderna to resolve the dispute continue, according to the health agency. The outcome of the dispute will have major implications for technology sharing. White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr Anthony Fauci told reporters in March that the United States would likely license the mRNA sequence if the Moderna dispute was resolved in favor of the NIH.
“Whatever we can do, we will do,” Fauci said when asked to share the mRNA code if the NIH wins the dispute. Minister of Health and Human Services Xavier Besera, in the same call, said the United States would “push the boundaries where the law allows us” when it comes to technology sharing.
The WHO has repeatedly called on vaccine manufacturers to share their know-how, but Pfizer and Moderna have refused to license the technology behind their vaccines to the Patent Pool for Medicines. However, Moderna does not apply for patents in 92 poorer countries. Although Pfizer does not share the technology, it provides the US government with 1 billion doses to donate to poorer nations.
The WHO has toured vaccine manufacturers, setting up a production hub in South Africa to produce vaccines based on the RNA technology used by Pfizer and Moderna in their photos. South African scientists are producing generic copies of Moderna’s vaccine based on publicly available information, as the biotechnology company is not enforcing its patents.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adanom Gebrejesus called on Moderna shareholders at the annual meeting of the biotech company to vote in favor of a resolution calling for a third-party investigation into the feasibility of technology transfer.
“If Moderna works with us, we could send the vaccine to the approval center at least a year in advance, which will save lives, reduce the risk of options and reduce the economic impact of the pandemic,” Tedros said.
The United States is also contributing another $ 200 million to the World Bank Pandemic Preparedness Fund for a total contribution of $ 450 million and an additional $ 20 million through the United States Agency for International Development to support the implementation of Covid tests and antivirals in eight countries. The White House said it was also expanding its vaccine donations through Pfizer to include booster doses and vaccines for children.
The donations are far from the $ 5 billion the White House has asked Congress to support vaccinations around the world. Congress failed to accept Biden’s broader $ 22.5 billion request for Covid funding due to opposition from Republicans who oppose spending so much.
Senators reached a $ 10 billion deal to fund Covid in April that did not include money for the global vaccination campaign. Republicans blocked the Senate from accepting $ 10 billion in a dispute over the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to end a controversial policy that sent asylum seekers back to Mexico as a public health measure known as Title 42.