Accelerating pooled licensing of medicines to enhance global production and equitable access
From October to November, 2021, the pharmaceutical firms Merck and Pfizer licensed their new COVID-19 oral antiviral medications to the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). In both cases, the drugs were licensed quickly, before they were launched, and the MPP then reached agreements with pharmaceutical firms across the globe (27 firms for Merck's molnupiravir and 36 firms for Pfizer's nirmatrelvir) to provide generic versions of these to roughly 100 low-income and middle-income countries. This Viewpoint examines the importance of these licences for the global production of, and access to, new medicines, during the pandemic and beyond. It would be a welcome development for these arrangements, which can generate sufficient volumes of production to avoid the supply shortages that encumbered the global vaccination response, to be an indication of a future in which new drugs have multiple suppliers in most low-income and middle-income countries. To explore that possibility, the Viewpoint highlights the political conditions that could make originator firms more inclined to license their products quickly to the MPP, and discusses how public policy can build on the opportunity created by these conditions to promote such licensing further.