by Navaneeth Dontuboyina (’24)|November 19, 2021
Despite the overall success of the COVID-19 vaccine, a major setback to combatting the pandemic is vaccine development and production by private entities lacking transparency. The consequences of this exclusivity include exorbitant vaccine prices and difficulties in reproducing vaccines in other countries. The simple yet novel solution is to advance patent-free antiviral therapy.
This method of antiviral therapy is rooted in the idea of open science—the belief that scientific discoveries should be accessible to the public without restrictions on their use. Conducting patent-free research entails developing treatments for certain viruses and publishing this information without intellectual copyright. Manufacturers across the world can then use this information to develop the same antivirals, driving down the prices and making medication more accessible and equitable to the public.
This concept of patent-free antiviral therapy is especially relevant in the contemporary world, as organizations fund open research to combat the pandemic. One organization at the forefront of this research is COVID Moonshot. Working with prestigious laboratories and collaborating with thousands of international scientists and pharmaceutical companies, COVID Moonshot is testing and developing new COVID-19 antiviral drugs at a faster pace than ever.
Recently, Moonshot received an $11 million grant from Wellcome Trust to fund preclinical studies with the ultimate goal of conducting 12-month clinical trials. Evidently, Moonshot and other patent-free research companies are playing a more prominent role than ever in developing antiviral treatment for COVID-19, but there still remain questions about the ramifications these organizations pose to the world of global health.
One of the main objectives of antiviral therapy companies, besides transparency, is regulating how governments and medical institutions conduct themselves during a global pandemic. Companies like Moonshot believe that the government needs to be more involved in public health during pandemics and that the monopoly held by private corporations harms innovation.
Moonshot and other companies are also challenging the notion that investors will not see value in research without patent protections. In fact, Moonshot insists that its breakneck speed and success are because of its transparency and that private companies are failing to learn from each other’s mistakes due to the confidentiality of their findings. By discouraging collaboration, private companies can not develop treatments at maximum efficiency.
Ultimately, Moonshot admits that the expensive drug development and manufacturing for vaccines will need to be funded by more than just donations and charity. However, if policy makers and investors see the transformative potential that antiviral therapies such as Moonshot can provide, the way we deal with pandemics as a global community will forever be improved.