The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) supports the World Health Organization (WHO) Solidarity Call to Action for equitable global access to COVID-19 health technologies, and commits to implementing its recommendations in its efforts to accelerate COVID-19 research in low- and middle-income countries.
As a not-for-profit, collaborative research and development (R&D) organization that has developed and delivered eight affordable and non-patented treatments for five deadly diseases, we know from firsthand experience that open sharing of research knowledge, intellectual property (IP), and data improves efficiency and accelerates scientific progress.
DNDi experience shows that a ‘chain of openness’ from early stage discovery through to clinical development is possible. But this requires that all R&D actors – public, private, academic, and not-for-profit – have a clear and shared vision for the end goal, underpinned by agreements that anticipate and remove any potential roadblocks to progress.
Agreements must be entered into as early as possible in the R&D process, not at the end, with clear terms and conditions not only about sharing and licensing of research knowledge, IP, and clinical trial data, but also about how to ensure end products are affordable and available.
This is not always easy. It requires all R&D actors to step away from business as usual and work collectively and collaboratively.
Given the global scale and magnitude of COVID-19, we do not have time for drawn-out closed-door negotiations. Governments must take steps now to put in place clear conditions on funding that ensure openness, and if necessary, use of all legal tools to ensure access. Technology owners should now license their IP for use by all globally on a non-exclusive basis, or not enforce it.
In parallel, steps will also need to be taken to ensure sufficient production, equitable allocation, and affordable pricing. Increasing existing production capacity will not be enough. Additional sources will need to be created, including through transfer of technology.
Once new health tools are developed, they will need to be equitably allocated both between wealthier and poorer countries, and within countries. This cannot be driven by the deepest pockets but by public health need: the most vulnerable and those at highest risk must be prioritized. The pricing of these tools must be as close as possible to what it costs to make them, so that they are affordable for health systems, and free to those most in need.
Now is the time to take concrete steps to ensure that COVID-19 drugs, diagnostics, vaccines and other health technologies are available as global public goods. We urge governments and all other public and private actors to join this Call and work together to ensure COVID-19 health tools are in the hands of clinicians and patients as quickly as possible so that we can diagnose, treat, prevent, and ultimately help defeat this global pandemic.