A danger to national securitySupporters of the waiver, which is under consideration at the World Trade Organization, depict it as a necessary measure for expanding access to treatments in poorer countries. In fact, it would do just the opposite — and in the process, it would seriously endanger New Jersey's economy and American national security.
U.S.-developed COVID-19 vaccines have saved more than 3 million Americans and over 20 million lives worldwide. Treatments that are now in the WTO's crosshairs, like Pfizer's Paxlovid, reduce hospitalization and death rates for unvaccinated patients by nearly 90%. None of this would have been possible without robust intellectual property protections.
These groundbreaking advancements exist only because bioscience companies and investors poured billions into their research and development. They undertake that effort with the expectation that a successful drug will enable them to recoup their enormous R&D expenses — which average $2.6 billion for a single medicine.
Patents and other intellectual property protections give drug companies confidence that their rivals won't immediately copy any newly developed treatments.
Rescinding these protections, even on a supposedly limited basis, would sow deep fear and uncertainty among the biotech inventors. Some may even refrain from investing the necessary time and resources to push new frontiers in medicine, knowing such endeavors simply aren't profitable.
What would happen in New Jersey? In New Jersey, these setbacks would take a sledgehammer to our economy. Apart from the nearly 70,000 New Jerseyans directly employed by the biotech industry, an additional 212,000 hold jobs that are indirectly supported by life sciences. Biotech R&D jobs are also among the highest-paid in the country.
Proponents of the WTO's proposal contend that it would alleviate a supposed shortage of COVID-19 tests and treatments in developing countries. But low- and middle-income countries have a surplus of such products. Through over 400 voluntary licensing agreements with nations on every continent, U.S. biotech companies have already distributed therapeutics to developing countries in record time.
Low- and middle-income countries undoubtedly face serious obstacles when it comes to efficiently distributing treatments. But these difficulties stem from logistical challenges, such as a lack of adequate cold storage and understaffed health care workforces — not the patent protections that deliver them lifesaving drugs in the first place.
This misguided waiver would, however, produce one clear victor: China. It's no secret that our most formidable adversary is attempting to bolster its bioscience industry and has a penchant for stealing American IP. Such theft costs the U.S. economy as much as $600 billion each year. Providing Beijing with even more proprietary technology behind our most cutting-edge medicines would only expedite China's plan to supplant America as the world's technological powerhouse.
Our current intellectual property system is the bedrock of global medical innovation. It enabled our scientists to beat back the deadliest pandemic in living memory. And it's an indispensable part of the U.S. economy — especially New Jersey's. As the White House risks imperiling that system, it's imperative that New Jersey's congressional delegation urges the Biden administration to reject this dangerous waiver.
Sandip Shah, a visiting professor at Rutgers University, is founder and president of Market Access Solutions, which develops strategies to optimize patient access to life-changing therapies.