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Patent waivers and impact on global vaccine supply shortages

Waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines will not help to address the global supply shortage, the co-founder of a Massachusetts-based biopharmaceutical company told CNBC.

The push for patent waivers is “political theater” and does not inherently allow others to create safe and effective vaccines, which are already very difficult to make, said Jake Becraft, CEO and co-founder of Strand Therapeutics.

His company does not produce any Covid-19 vaccines but is developing a platform to create programmable messenger RNA drugs, which can trigger the body’s own immune response to fight illnesses.

“We need to commit to what we’re already manufacturing and scale that up across the world as much as we can,” Becraft said Monday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”

Vaccine shortage

Last year, India and South Africa submitted a joint proposal to the World Trade Organization to waive IP rights on Covid vaccines.

Known as the Trips waiver — or Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights — the plan was blocked by some high-income countries including the U.K., Switzerland, Japan, Norway, Canada, and the European Union among others. France, for example, reasoned that the way to step up global inoculation is for vaccine-producing nations to step up their exports.

While the United States initially blocked the proposal, the Biden administration this month said it supports waivers on IP rights for Covid-19.

Boosting the supply chain

Nisha Biswal, president of the U.S.-India Business Council agreed that a patent waiver won’t address the question of boosting vaccine supplies to the rest of the world.

With a patent waiver, it would take months or years before the technology, raw materials, and production capacity is up to the standard required for countries to be able to produce their own vaccines, she told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.

Instead, the focus should be on helping countries that are already producing vaccines to scale up their production.

“Many of these (vaccine) manufactures are already in conversation with India, with Indian companies, on how they can try to have manufacturing in India of some of these,” Biswal said. “That’s probably a faster, and more efficient way to do it than to talk about a Trips waiver.”

Becraft from Strand Therapeutics added that in the longer-term, world governments need to provide more funding and infrastructure support for pharmaceutical companies to build manufacturing sites around the world.

Last week BioNTech announced it would build a manufacturing facility in Singapore to produce its mRNA-based vaccines.

CNBC’s Silvia Amaro contributed to reporting.