World leaders -- except U.S. and China -- commit to collaborate on defeating COVID-19

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Leaders of national governments, international organizations, philanthropies and biopharmaceutical trade associations Friday pledged their support and commitment to the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

The U.S. and China are among the few countries that have not backed the initiative, which hopes to raise €7.5 billion ($8.2 billion) via a May 4 pledging conference.

ACT aims not only to foster collaboration on COVID-19 medical countermeasures, but also to ensure global equitable access. Participants in the initiative committed to collaborate on the accelerated development and availability of new COVID-19 tools, and also to “accelerate equitable global access to safe, quality, effective, and affordable COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, and thus to ensure that in the fight against COVID-19, no one is left behind.”

Organizers of ACT include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI); Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; Wellcome Trust; the WHO; and other international organizations.

Heads of state and representatives of Costa Rica, France, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Norway, Rwanda, Spain, the U.K. and Vietnam endorsed the effort at an online event.

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed the hope that the U.S. and China will join ACT.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called for a “global response to the global pandemic,” and along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders stressed the importance of a May 4 pledging conference for countermeasures R&D and manufacturing.

Individuals who are part of the European negotiations told BioCentury that €3 billion will be allocated for vaccines, that participants will include Japan, and that financial pledges will likely include commitments to reserve the first 4-6 million doses of vaccine for healthcare workers and to distribute vaccines globally according to need (see “Europe, Japan to Pledge $3B for COVID-19 Vaccines”).

BioCentury’s sources noted that it is necessary to make access commitments before there is solid evidence about which vaccine candidates will be successful. After a vaccine’s safety and efficacy have been demonstrated, there will be strong political demand to reserve it for populations in the countries where it is developed or is manufactured, and it could be impossible at that time to secure global access pledges.

While the U.S. has mechanisms in place to fund at-risk vaccine manufacturing, it has made no commitments to make vaccines available to other countries. Industry executives and public health leaders previously contacted by BioCentury said they assume the U.S. will not make vaccines widely available to other countries until domestic demand has been met.

Wellcome Director Jeremy Farrar said ACT’s success will depend on a sustained commitment to science. “This is now a human endemic infection. It will not disappear. This is not SARS. The only true exit strategy is through science and the manufacturing of that science and the equitable distribution to the world to make sure everybody receives it independent of their ability to pay.”

Farrar added that the need to develop diagnostics, treatments and vaccines is coupled to a need to deliver them. “This is what this unprecedented partnership can, and what this unprecedented partnership will deliver.”

Thomas Cueni, director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (IFPMA), expressed the commitment of the biopharmaceutical industry to ACT and to the broader effort to combat COVID-19. “We stand ready to bring to this partnership our unique knowledge and expertise in the discovery and development of medicines and vaccines, as well as our experience building manufacturing capacity and distribution networks.”

Cueni pledged the biopharmaceutical industry’s full commitment to ACT’s “goal to accelerate development, production and equitable global access to safe, quality, effective, and affordable COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines. In the fight against COVID-19, we must ensure that no one is left behind. We will only succeed in this journey together.”

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