Idaho National Laboratory, via Wikimedia Commons

In America and around the world, we are living through unprecedented times.

Think for a moment about the global challenges we face.

Climate change and the threat that poses. Everything from the air we breathe to the homes we live in and the food we eat are already being impacted by the warming earth.

John LaMattina

Then there are threats like AMR — antimicrobial resistance. This is of particular interest to me as a scientist. We’re seeing ‘superbugs’ that our current antibiotics and antifungals can’t knock out. The ‘superbugs’ are evolving and growing resistant to treatment. It’s estimated that as many as 10 million people will die each year by 2050 if we don’t start to solve this issue.

And there is always the threat of the next pandemic. What that looks like and how it will impact our world is an unknown.

For all of these reasons and more, it would seem that now is great opportunity to encourage, support and invest in scientific innovation of all types.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing just the opposite happen at the federal level and beyond.

Back in the early days of COVID — before vaccines were even on the market — countries petitioned the World Trade Organization for access to the intellectual property being used to develop vaccines. Shocking to many in the biopharmaceutical industry, that waiver was granted and okayed by the Biden administration. This was a terrible precedent to set — and predictably, there is work underway to expand on the original waiver by including COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics.

Thankfully, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) is conducting an investigation into whether World Trade Organization rules on intellectual property protection should be weakened for COVID-19 therapeutics and diagnostics. Presumably, the position the U.S. takes on the expansion will be based on the report the USITC is scheduled to issue ahead of a June meeting in Geneva where the topic is on the agenda.

Our leaders failed to stop this train when it first left the station, but they cannot continue to let it continue down this track. Giving away intellectual property rights will stifle innovation just when we need it most and that could lead to a number of unwelcome consequences.

First: quality and safety concerns for these products. Just having the ingredient list doesn’t mean you can make a bakery quality pie. Similarly, knowing the IP of a vaccine or treatment doesn’t mean it will be manufactured safely or accurately. The companies developing these products have decades of experience in procuring, manufacturing, and distributing. That knowledge base should not be discounted. It should instead be protected.

Secondly: jobs. Beyond the tens of thousands of jobs that the biopharma industry brings to Connecticut, our state is a leader in other innovation fields. Connecticut is a leader in aerospace and defense manufacturing, technology, and renewable energy. All of these industries rely on innovation and science. It should be at the top of our federal lawmakers list to protect all of these industries.

However, this precedent setting assault on intellectual property will devastate the investment in these industries. Why would an investor put money behind an innovative idea, if they know the intellectual property rights to that product or process could be taken away? What will that do to our ability to fight the next pandemic? To slow down climate change? To keep our families healthy and safe?

For the sake of my scientific colleagues here in Connecticut and across the country, the U.S. must oppose any expansion of intellectual property waivers. Our world could depend on it.

John LaMattina of Stonington is former President, Pfizer Global Research and Development. He is the author of the book, “Profits and Pharma: Balancing Innovation, Medicine and Drug Prices”.