The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said it has finalized a global license deal to ramp up production of a serological technology that detects COVID-19 antibodies, something the agency says will “turn the tide” on the pandemic.
The license will be provided royalty-free to poor and middle-income countries, the WHO announced in a news release, adding that it will remain valid until the date the last patent expires.
The non-exclusive licensing agreement reached with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), a public research institute offering the technology as a global public good, is the first test license signed by the WHO’s Medicines Patent Pool (MPP).
“The aim of the license is to facilitate the rapid manufacture and commercialization of CSIC’s COVID-19 serological test worldwide,” the WHO said.
The technology checks for the presence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies developed either in response to a COVID-19 infection or to a vaccine.
Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged developers of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics to “follow this example and turn the tide on the pandemic and on the devastating global inequity this pandemic has spotlighted.”
“This is the kind of open and transparent license we need to move the needle on access during and after the pandemic,” Tedros said.
Doctors Without Borders, an international organization that provides medical aid to communities in need, welcomed the deal, noting that currently WHO only had one antibody test using quantitative immunoassays (ELISA) made by Roche Holding AG which can only be used with the Swiss-based drugmaker’s own device.
“In order to overcome the monopoly of large diagnostics companies such as Roche, and to facilitate production and supply of reliable ELISA antibody tests in all countries, the open license from CSIC to WHO C-TAP (COVID-19 Technology Access Pool) is an important step forward,” Doctors Without Borders said.
“However, one license from one technology owner is not enough to open up the full platform so that developers in countries can improve their tests for COVID-19 antibodies,” the organization said
“Removing intellectual property barriers on all key technology components, and facilitating open sharing, pooling and transferring of technologies, data, and know-how, are important to guarantee and improve access to COVID-19 diagnostics for all.”
Diana Morant, Spanish Minister of Science and Innovation, said in a statement that the agreement will “protect lives.”
“Science has the universal purpose of improving people’s lives. Therefore this is also a firm commitment of our government: supporting a public system of science to serve all citizens,” she said.
The WHO noted that the tests are easy to use and suitable for all settings with a basic laboratory infrastructure, such as those found in rural areas in low- and middle-income countries.
Reuters contributed to this report.