2021/19 LEM Working Paper Series

Some policy lessons from medical/therapeutic responses to the COVID-19 Crisis: A rich research system for knowledge generation and dysfunctional institutions for its exploitation

Giovanni Dosi
Covid-19 pandemic; vaccines; Intellectual property rights; TRPS; innovation; public goods.

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This note discusses the medical/therapeutical responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and their “political economy” context. First, the very quick development of several vaccines highlights the richness of the basic knowledge waiting for therapeutical exploitation. Such knowledge has largely originated in public or non-profit institutions. Second, symmetrically, there is longer-term evidence that the private sector (essentially Big Pharma) has decreased its investment in basic research in general, and has long been uninterested in vaccines in particular. Only when flooded with an enormous amount of public money it became eager to undertake applied research, production scale-up and testing. Third, the “political economy” of the underlying public-private relationship reveals a profound dysfunctionality with the public being unable to determine the rates and direction of innovation, but at the same time confined to the role of payer of first and last resort, with dire consequences for both advanced, and more so, developing countries. Fourth, on normative grounds, measures like ad hoc patent waivers are certainly welcome, but this will not address the fundamental challenge, involving a deep reform of the Intellectual Property Rights regimes and their international protection (TRIPS Agreements).
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