Press Release: Defending the Public Interest in Vaccine and Medical Development

Access to Medicines Ireland are hosting a Web Conference here on Tuesday, 7th April, from 10am to 1pm, entitled: “Defending the Public Interest in Vaccine and Medical Development,” specifically focused on COVID-19. Leading international experts will explore how best to support research that ensures effective vaccines and medicines are developed rapidly and are affordable to those who need them most.

COVID-19 has shone a light on a critical weakness in our health system – the profit-driven drugs model that is used to develop life-saving vaccines and medicines. Currently the pharmaceutical industry, and the monopolies that drive its profits, control which medicines will be developed and who will get access to them.

Co-Founder of the Access to Medicines Group, Dr Kieran Harkin said:

“We have seen worrying developments such as President Trump’s attempt to purchase the intellectual property rights of a German Covid-19 treatment for exclusive US use. We have also seen pharmaceutical companies attempt to obtain extended market exclusivity for drugs that promise to be useful in the treatment of Covid-19, under the guise of ‘orphan drug status’”. 

“These are outrageous actions to take with life-saving treatments. To treat this pandemic quickly and effectively, we must break with this failed market model now.”

This crisis – like all crises – presents opportunities as well as threats. We have seen a welcome expansion of open source research which facilitates the sharing of ideas between teams of scientists. This enables the proliferation of ideas and a reduction in the length of time it takes to bring a drug into supply.

The present global health emergency should bring countries, international organizations, NGOs, investors and industry together to agree on a new social contract whereby industry serves the public interest rather than shareholder profit. Governments must use their power to direct and control medical development and to ensure that products are accessible to the public, who have contributed so substantially to early research. 

An alternative system of medicines development designed to meet the public health need is required as a matter of urgency.

Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) knows all too well what it means to not be able to treat people in our care because a needed drug is just too expensive or simply not available.

With Covid-19, right now, every single person on the planet can experience first-hand the failure of the current pharmaceutical system. For each of us, it can mean no diagnostic, no treatment, no ventilator, no vaccine; for society as a whole, it is a disaster”, said Gaëlle Krikorian, Head of Policy at MSF’s Access Campaign.

“It is high time we stop pretending that the logic of the market is fit to provide the medical innovation and availability of proper health tools to all the people who need them, and take radical steps to change the terms of the social contract between the public and the private sector to put public health first.”​

MSF is deeply concerned about access to tests and to any forthcoming drugs and vaccines for COVID-19 in places where MSF works and in other countries affected by this pandemic. The organisation is urging governments to change the rules: put health before profits, access before patents, transparency of prices and costs before trade secrets, collective governance instead of unilateral control over knowledge and resources. This is required to ensure that we have the health tools we need, available in every continent and affordable.

Broken drug development systems require critical debate, informed opinion and policy change, which this Web Conference aims to provide.

Web Conference Running Order.

10.00 – 10.05 am: Mr. Robbie Lawlor, AMI; Welcome remarks, Introduction to the Format and Zoom Functions

10.05 – 10.15 am: Ms. Emily O’Reilly, EU Ombudsman; Opening Remarks

10.15 – 11.20 am: Panel 1: Is the Current R&D Model Fit for the COVID-19 Challenge?

Prof Sam McConkey
, Professor Infectious Diseases, RCSI; COVID-19 Treatments on the Horizon

Prof Luke O’Neill, School of Immunology, TCD; A Frenzy of Activity: Vaccines, Antibodies, Anti-Virals and Anti-Inflammatories to Crack COVID-19 

Dr. Andrew Hill, University of Liverpool; Drug Shortages during the COVID-19 Crisis 

Dr. Ellen ‘t Hoen, Medicine Law and Policy; COVID-19: Learning from the Past

10.40 – 11.30 am: Panel Discussion, Q&A

11.30 am – 11.40 am: Break


11.40 – 1.00 pm: Panel 2: COVID-19: The Opportunity for Socio-Cultural and Political Reform

Ms. Kay Curtin
, Patient Advocate; Living with the Uncertainty of not having Access to Treatment

Ms. Jacqui Browne, Patient Advocate, IHREC Disability Advisory Commitee; Ethical Concerns, Questions and Imperatives from a Patient Perspective in a Pandemic

Dr. Gaelle Kirkorian, Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders; COVID-19: The Need for Radical Changes to Ensure Access to Essential Health Tools

Mr. Darren O Rourke, TD and PhD Scholar; COVID-19 and the Politics of Access to Medicines Reform

Mr. Diarmaid McDonald, Just Treatment

12.10 – 12.55 pm: Panel Discussion, Q&A

12.55 – 1 pm: Ms. Susi Geiger, AMI, Misfires UCD; Closing Remarks

Moderator: Ms. Susan Mitchell, Deputy Editor, Business Post