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Civil society issues warning over affordability of Covid-19 drugs

Europe’s burgeoning R&D efforts must prioritise patients over profits, campaigners have said

Campaigners have told the EU it must ensure that the drugs whose development it is supporting to treat Covid-19 are affordable and available to those who need them most, such as by including non-exclusive licensing as a condition in funding calls.

In an open letter published on 25 March, 61 civil society groups criticised the fact that a €45 million call from the EU’s Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) public-private partnership included no stipulation of affordability for the drugs the call is intended to help develop.

“It is high time for health needs to take priority over profit,” the organisations said, while also calling for governments to be transparent about the share of drug development costs borne by taxpayers.

Research Professional News has asked the European Commission and IMI for comment.

The warning came as the European Medicines Agency and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control set out some of the open research questions around Covid-19 and the needs of researchers working on treatments for the disease.

Clinical trials into possible treatments require more funding and common methodologies, the ECDC said, while the EMA said that researchers working on potential vaccines must share data with regulators as they go. Many unknowns remain for researchers, such as what proportion of those infected show no symptoms, what role these people have in spreading the disease and which routes of transmission are most important.

To help resolve these questions, several European research infrastructures are offering fast-track access to their instruments and hasty peer review for those working on the disease. They include biobank networks and facilities for probing the structures of molecules.

Swathes of the research and innovation community are being called up to combat Covid-19. On 25 March, the European Commission called for help from those working in robotics and artificial intelligence. It wants to hear about robots and self-learning software that can quickly be deployed for disease prevention, diagnosis or treatment, as well as ideas for development.

The Commission has rewritten the priorities of its 2020 work plan for the EU’s core R&D programme, Horizon 2020, incorporating the emergency Covid-19 calls it has already run, including a €47.5m call that dispersed funding to 17 projects to better understand and respond to the outbreak.