The European Union does not finish deciding on the release of patents with COVID-19 vaccines. While there are countries like Spain, which believe that it is necessary, but not sufficient, other countries such as Germany, the European Commission itself or the rotating presidency of the EU, Portugal, do not consider it a priority. The result of this is that almost a month after the United States surprised the world with its support for the temporary suspension of intellectual property protections for vaccines against the coronavirus and after months of stagnation in the debates, a dozen members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), mainly wealthy, continue to resist starting negotiations on this measure.
This is how the lobby of large pharmaceuticals maneuvers in Brussels to preserve patents for vaccines and treatments against COVID-19
In that position against the release of patents are large pharmaceutical companies, which use large amounts of resources, as confirmed by a Corporate Europe Observartory report published this Tuesday, which in turn acknowledges that “it is difficult to get up-to-date information and details about the lobby due to the weak transparency rules of EU pressure groups, which are hampering the public scrutiny that is now more necessary than ever due to the pandemic” .
After Monday’s WTO meeting, the proposed exemption from the Agreement on Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) remains on the table, a temporary global relaxation of intellectual property rights about COVID19 vaccines and treatments to allow them to be produced on a much larger scale.
On June 7 and 8, MEPs will decide the position of the European Parliament on a resolution on the matter, and between June 9 and 10 the European Commission will represent the EU at the meeting of the WTO Council for TRIPS in Geneva to decide whether or not to start waiver negotiations. Furthermore, the summit of the G7 countries on June 11-13 in London will be an important moment for the debate on the TRIPS exemption.
The debate on the TRIPS exemption, first proposed by South Africa and India in October 2020, entered a new phase in early May 2021 when US President Joe Biden endorsed the proposal and the EU agreed. suddenly became the biggest remaining obstacle to starting negotiations.
Despite this, Big Pharma remains opposed to any relaxation of patents on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. “The EFPIA Pharmaceutical Lobby [Federación Europea de Industrias y Asociaciones Farmacéuticas]”explains the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) report,” in a closed-door meeting with the European Commission in December 2020 called the exemption an ‘extreme measure for an unidentified problem’. Later, he criticized Biden’s support for the exemption as “shortsighted and ineffective.” At a time of huge windfall profits from the pandemic, Big Pharma is particularly interested in defending its patent model. ”
According to the Corporate Europe Observatory’s review of the pharmaceutical industry lobby in Brussels, “the industry is investing huge amounts of money to influence EU decision-making. EU decision-makers will clash in the next few weeks to massive pressure to (continue) from the side of Big Pharma. ”
Thus, based on the annual disclosure updates on lobbying sent to the EU Transparency Register, the CEO collects that “more than 40 pharmaceutical companies report that they spend up to 25.3 million euros a year on lobbying; Big Pharma lobbyists spent up to an additional € 10.7 million a year; and that Big Pharma spends up to € 14.9 million a year on lobbying consultancies in Brussels to influence EU decision-making “.
The CEO advises that the Transparency Registry guidelines urge companies to include spending on lobbying consultancies in the total amount of reported lobbying spending. “It is clear that not all companies actually do this, but presumably many do, so adding the spending of companies, lobbyists and consultancies would result in double counting. Therefore, a conservative estimate of spending annual total of lobbyists in the EU by Big Pharma is € 36 million per year, “explains the Corporate Europe Observatory, adding:” Pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists report that they employ at least 290 lobbyists (an estimated 104.75 full-time lobbying jobs), and this figure does not include lobbyists ‘hired’ in lobbying consultancies. ”
The entity explains that “EFPIA, the main lobby group for large pharmaceuticals in Europe, increased its lobbying spending by around 20% in 2020 compared to the previous year (up to 5.5 million euros compared to 4.6 million in 2019), involving 25 lobbyists.Most pharmaceutical companies report that lobbyist spending has not changed, with some even talking about a slight reduction in spending by lobbyists. But as many companies have yet to report on their lobbying spending in 2020, it is premature to draw conclusions about how the pandemic has affected lobbying spending. ”
The April 2015 report of the Corporate Observatory of Europe Political recipes: the firepower of the EU pharmaceutical lobby and the implications for public health It already showed that Big Pharma spent almost 15 times more than civil society groups working on public health and access to medicines. “Since then, while civil society spending has increased, Big Pharma continues to spend much more with an EU lobby budget, at least five times higher than that of civil society,” the entity explains.
“Civil society is not only exceeded in resources by the business lobby on health issues. It is also worth noting the privileged access that Big Pharma enjoys at the highest levels of the European Commission. The investigation of the Corporate Europe Observatory of May 2021 The Commission’s pharmaceutical resonance chamber shows that only those who do not question Big Pharma’s monopolies on patents seem to have access. While mega-philanthropist Bill Gates and the pro-patent lobby are a powerful force influencing the EU response, advocates of sharing technology to deal with the pandemic are facing closed doors. Figures released by Deutsche Welle showed an extreme imbalance between opponents and advocates of the vaccine patent exemption: 140 meetings with pharmaceutical companies and their associations, 18 meetings with generic companies and only one meeting with pro-exemption groups. ”
The Corporate Europe Observatory report shows that “the role of consultants in the pharmaceutical lobby is also considerable. There are several hundred lobbying consultants in Brussels and more than 65 companies have lobbyists with permanent access passes to the European Parliament. . A total of 34 lobbying consultants registered in the Transparency Registry report that they work for Big Pharma: EFPIA, the largest investor in the pharmaceutical lobby, invests up to 660,000 euros a year in no less than 8 lobbying consulting firms (Acumen, Hague Corporate Affairs, Incisive Health, Interel, Porter Novelli, RRP Group, Rud Pedersen PA and ZN) “.
Furthermore, “the vaccine producer Moderna does not have its own office in Brussels and appears to rely heavily on FTI Consulting to put pressure on the EU; Johnson & Johnson hired 7 lobbying consultants for up to € 650,000; and Pfizer reports that it spends between € 800,000 and € 900,000 a year lobbying in the EU. ”
Pfizer does have a lobby office in Brussels and four lobbyists with permanent access passes to the European Parliament. “But the Transparency Register also shows that it hired three lobbying consultancies to boost its influence, on which Pfizer spent between € 950,000 and € 1.2 million a year (Fleishman Hillard, Porter Novelli and ZN),” the report says. .
“Regarding Pfizer, it appears that it is underestimating its actual lobbying budget, given that consulting fees must be included in the company’s lobby spending,” explains the CEO: “Also, the company is still reporting its spending figures. from lobby of 2019, instead of last year. Therefore, Corporate Europe Observatory has alerted the Transparency Registry secretariat to contact Pfizer to update and correct their lobby spending figure. ”
The CEO also warns that “the weakness of the transparency registration requirements of the EU lobbyists makes it impossible to know what specific laws and political issues these consultancies were pressing on behalf of big pharmaceuticals.” This matter is pending to change with the reforms of the Transparency Register agreed by the EU institutions, which are being finalized.
According to the data collected, Big Pharma is one of the biggest funders of the Brussels-based lobby consultancies. “Six lobbying consultancies earn more than € 1 million a year lobbying Big Pharma: Incisive Health (up to € 2.1 million, including EFPIA, MSD, Hoffman la Roche, etc.); Fleishman Hillard (up to € 1, € 4 million, including Pfizer, Novartis, etc.); FTI Consulting (up to € 1.3 million, Moderna, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, etc.); Porter Novelli (up to € 1.2 million, Pfizer , Bayer, EFPIA, etc.); Acumen (up to € 1.15 million, MSD, EFPIA, Johnson & Johnson).