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Who is responding to the WHO Solidarity Call to Action

With the world currently in the midst of a global pandemic and researchers around the globe seeking an effective treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, we have seen some collaborations between businesses which would have been almost unthinkable a year ago. These include pharmaceutical giants Sanofi and Glaxosmithkline who have joined forces in the search for a vaccine, as have Pfizer and BioNTech.

The WHO has now called for a broader sharing of knowledge, data and intellectual property in their Solidarity Call to Action.  Stating that “the single most important priority of the global community is to stop the COVID-19 pandemic in its tracks”, the WHO calls on countries and companies to voluntarily pool the information they have in an internationally cooperative effort to fight COVID-19. The point is, of course, that while a single research organisation working alone may take a decade to develop a vaccine, and longer still to make it available to the public in sufficient quantities, by pooling the data obtained by a large number of organisations this timeline may be drastically reduced. The pledge lasts for the duration of the pandemic plus one year, or until 1 January 2023.

A significant number of companies, including household names such as Microsoft, Amazon, Intel and Fujitsu, have signed up to the pledge. However, currently there are no companies pledged which are immediately recognisable as being directly involved in the development of treatments and vaccines.

It’s a similar story when we look at the countries which have so far pledged themselves to this call. While a significant number of countries have signed up, including countries across Europe, Africa and Asia, notable names are absent. The UK does not currently appear on the list, nor does the US, Germany or China, all large countries with strong research bases.

While this Call to Solidarity is a promising move, and no doubt some of the companies and countries pledged to it will be able to make valuable information freely available to aid in the fight against COVID-19, it is unclear how successful this enterprise will be unless some of the major companies and countries involved in vaccine and treatment development pledge themselves. However, technology which, for example, a large pharmaceutical company would have to make freely available under this pledge may relate to information or processes which they have heavily invested in the development of, and which have wider applications than just COVID-19. To protect themselves, they may choose instead to focus their efforts on their individual collaborations.

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