Vaccine equity advocates call for patent-free access to COVID19 therapeutic baricitinib

18 January, 2022: Following a World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of the drug baricitinib as a therapeutic medicine for COVID19, public health advocates at Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have called on the World Trade Organisation to lift intellectual property monopolies on COVID19 treatments and vaccines.

Baricitinib is already approved for other health problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, and generic versions are already available in India and Bangladesh at much lower prices than those being charged by the patent holder, US pharmaceutical corporation Eli Lilly.

An Indian manufacturer priced baricitinib at US$5.50 per treatment course, and the lowest listed price in Bangladesh is $6.70 — which is nearly 400 times less than Eli Lilly’s exorbitant listed price in July of $2,326 per treatment course.

But in many countries, generic baricitinib will not be available, as the drug is under patent monopoly.

Eli Lilly has filed and obtained patents widely, including in countries hit hard by the pandemic, such as Brazil, Russia, South Africa and Indonesia. Where patents are granted, the monopoly does not expire until 2029 and could persist even longer because of patent term extensions.

Dr.  Márcio da Fonseca, Infectious Diseases Medical Advisor with MSF Access Campaign, said:

“Since the start of this pandemic, financially strapped countries have been struggling with inequitable access to all lifesaving COVID-19 medical tools because of hoarding by rich countries and pandemic profiteering by pharmaceutical corporations. With these proven therapeutics recommended by the WHO, it's time now for low- and middle-income countries to finally access these therapies that are already in routine use in many high-income countries.

“Governments must step up and take immediate action, including calling for the adoption of the ‘TRIPS Waiver’ in order to ensure equitable, uninterrupted, sufficient, timely, and affordable generic production and supply globally.

MSF/Doctors Without Borders says that Baricitinib is another example of why the waiver of intellectual property obligations by World Trade Organization (WTO) member states is needed urgently to comprehensively enable access to  COVID-19  vaccines and other medical tools.

  • To read the full Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) statement, click here.