The Biden administration will share U.S. government-devised coronavirus technologies with the World Health Organization, a policy shift intended to allow other countries to replicate some American scientific breakthroughs and better fight the pandemic abroad, federal officials said Thursday.
Under the plan, some technologies now being developed by the National Institutes of Health will be licensed to the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, senior NIH official Anthony S. Fauci told reporters. The technologies will also be sub-licensed to the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool.
Fauci declined to detail which technologies would be made available for licensing by other countries, saying the plan’s details were “still being ironed out.” The new policy is not intended to apply to the vaccines and therapeutics that have been developed by private companies and are currently in the U.S. market, according to three people familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the news media.
The United States is not expected to share NIH-developed technology that was used by Moderna, the vaccine maker that worked closely with the U.S. government in its messenger RNA vaccine. Foreign countries and developers have long petitioned for access to Moderna’s technology and know-how, saying that it would allow them to more quickly replicate their own versions of Moderna’s vaccine.
Sharing the technologies behind NIH-devised coronavirus diagnostics, treatments and vaccines is intended to allow other nations and developers to replicate the manufacturing process. As a result, officials expect the decision to more quickly build a global stockpile of supplies to combat the pandemic.
“I thank NIH for its offer of innovative therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostic methods for COVID-19,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “Voluntary sharing of technologies through non-exclusive agreements will not only help us put the pandemic behind us; it will also empower low- and middle-income countries to produce their own medical products and achieve equitable access.”
The WHO, dozens of foreign countries and public health advocates have spent nearly two years urging the United States and other wealthy nations to share the technologies linked with their coronavirus vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.
Spain in November announced that it would share the technology behind a coronavirus antibody test with the WHO, the first significant donation to the pool, known as C-TAP.
U.S. participation in the WHO pool could jump-start global donations of such technologies, officials and advocates said.
“The U.S. government sets the tone for country relationships toward the pharmaceutical industry, as well as this sort of global cooperation,” said Peter Maybarduk, who oversees the global medicine program at Public Citizen, an advocacy organization. “And by taking the publicly owned inventions and working with WHO to make them available to humanity … that is a clear and powerful demonstration of what governments can do.”