Cristóbal Thompson
Executive Director
Expert Contributor

IP: The Enabler of Scientific Advances That Have Improved Life

By Cristobal Thompson | Thu, 08/11/2022 - 11:00

Intellectual property (IP) is key to fostering an environment that promotes healthcare innovations and improves people’s well-being. It is also a reward mechanism that provides competitive advantages to invest in research and development and incentivizes innovation.

As of the 20th century, medical advances promoted through intellectual property have indisputably improved life expectancy and quality thanks to healthcare innovations. For example, hepatitis C was a death sentence several years ago; today, it is curable. The same is true of cancer, which is changing from a deadly illness into a chronic disease with a good quality of life.

We can cite numerous examples of patients with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hemophilia, multiple sclerosis, or autoimmune diseases, who have a life expectancy similar to that of everyone else. This is thanks to innovation.

At AMIIF Innovation Week 2022, intellectual property had a special place on the agenda because of its role in the innovative pharmaceutical industry’s unprecedented response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this sense, I stress that intellectual property has been an enabler in the response to the pandemic that made it possible to provide safe and effective medical solutions for patients at a speed that set a new standard in the history of science.

According to information provided by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA), the protection of intellectual property allowed the industry to face the pandemic through voluntary technology transfers and partnerships that resulted in the production of more than 13 billion vaccine doses worldwide. There have also been 371 collaborations in the manufacturing of vaccines and 155 for therapeutics. These numbers are significant since they are evidence that innovation and creativity require protection through intellectual property rights.

During her participation in the panel discussion on “Intellectual Property: Factors Influencing Healthcare Innovations,” Komal Kalha, Associate Director of Intellectual Property and Trade Policy at the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA), outlined how the global pharmaceutical industry came together to respond to the public healthcare emergency caused by the pandemic, within the framework of protection for intellectual property. She noted that such collaboration resulted in the fastest-ever vaccine development and authorization, which took just 326 days. Kalha added that the research plans and studies reduced by 94 percent the time it takes to develop a vaccine. That unprecedented speed in responding to the pandemic has saved thousands of lives worldwide.

As can be seen, innovation cannot be stopped and is achieved to a large extent with incentives behind solid intellectual property, which created the right environment to ensure the current availability of 11 vaccines with WHO Emergency Use Listing and 36 therapeutics approved across the world.

In short, COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics are the product of scientific research, public-private partnerships, and many years of hard work and investment backed by intellectual property. Without intellectual property, the investment, cooperation, and innovation that led to the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics would not have happened as they did, and many lives would have been lost.

The Importance of IP for Society

In the panel discussion on “Intellectual Property: Factors Influencing Healthcare Innovations” at the AMIIF Innovation Week 2022, Eduardo Velasquillo, Coordinator of Strategic Planning of the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI), presented figures that confirm the importance of intellectual property to society.

Velazquillo reported that the IMPI receives nearly 32,000 trademark applications to protect health-related products annually. Regarding patents, between 2018 and 2021, 25 percent of the applications filed were from healthcare sectors, such as medical technology and pharmaceutical products.

The IMPI has promoted the modernization of the national legal regime to adapt it to the new reality as well as to implement international obligations provided by the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USCMA) and other FTAs. However, the implementation of the intellectual property measures provided by the USMCA has not been completed. Within the short term, Mexico must update its legal regime by adopting certain measures to protect pharmaceutical innovation. Beyond complying with international obligations, those measures will encourage the research and development of new therapeutics.

Intellectual property also creates value and contributes to strengthening the economy of nations.

Countries filing a larger number of patents tend to experience higher economic growth rates, which accelerate over time as patenting activities increase. This is one of the main findings of the report The Importance of IP-Intensive Manufacturing Industries to the U.S. Economy, edited by NPD Analytics.

The report elaborates on the crucial contributions of innovation to economic growth while reinforcing the importance of protecting intellectual property.

As stated earlier, innovation activates a virtuous circle of well-being and sustainable development for populations while generating economic growth for countries; therefore, we must continue to bet on research and intellectual property protection.

Photo by:   Cristóbal Thompson