Corona vaccine, who will gain?
Corona havoc has already claimed 956,915 lives so far but effort to discover a vaccine is also going on. Though a humanitarian initiative, it has a different side also. Scientists are now competing against one another because discovery of a vaccine will lead to capture world market. Same was the situation 200 years ago centering discovery of quinine.
Bark of cinchona was indiscriminately used as medicine of any fever during 17th and 18th century. French chemists Piere Joseph Peletiere and Joseph Binem first discovered varieties of cinchona during 1820s. Through research they found that yellow, gray and red barks contain high quality alkaloid but yellow bark is the best. During 18th century the idea of marketing entered into chemical research. Interest of chemists and businessmen mingled at the same point.
The only target was to capture world market first and enjoy monopoly in quinine business. Francois Mazendi, a French physiologist wrote a few books in 1820s that directly encouraged medicine manufacturers. Like quinine his books also became top seller with many editions and those were translated into other languages.
Even ahead of publishing those books in North America, Fir and Quzi, a renowned organisation started selling quinine at $16 per ounce. Very costly indeed if time value of money is considered. In 1823 a company of Philadelphia claimed that they have already prepared quinine for commercial sale. A physician of Mussouri started selling quinine tablet in his own name. Look Howard, a retailer of medicine in London, established a quinine factory in 1830. Another was established in Rome. Huge capital was invested in producing quinine in Europe and America.
In a research paper in 1839, renowned botanist William Dawson Looker expressed his optimism about bright future of quinine trade. He mentioned that all uncertainties regarding cinchona trade hade been removed. Chemical test can ascertain quality alkaloid and quinine. Even due to huge demand adulterated quinine was also marketed in some places because any cinchona, good or bad, was thought to be the source of quinine. Therefore, an outcome of publicity from physicians demand of quinine rapidly mounted. Since 1820s scholars and business lords started their journey together. Physician John Sapington acquired huge wealth through selling quinine tablet.
Howard family of London was the most influential in quinine trade throughout 19th century. He was awarded fellowship of Royal society in 1821 but discarding everything in 1823 he claimed that he could extract valuable alkaloid even from inferior quality cinchona. With a view to capture the market John Eliot Howard established a quinine factory and claimed their quinine as the best in England.
Not only for malaria, quinine become a panacea. A belief developed in the minds of common people that quinine can cure all diseases Utilising this opportunity properly different countries rushed to capture the market of quinine by any means.
After 200 years repetition of that same situation is happening regarding corona vaccine. Researchers worldwide are working round the clock to develop a vaccine. Certainly it is a philanthropic effort but the point of business (please read - plundering profit) is not at all ignorable. Experts estimate that if everything goes smoothly success to develop a fast-tracked vaccine will take approximately 12-18 months. Moreover, it is not possible for any government to afford huge cost of research. So, partner is required. Corona virus has created a good opportunity of public private partnership. Operation Warp Speed is such a joint platform of several department of the US federal government. Under its supervision the US National Institutes of Health has partnered with more than 18 biopharmaceutical companies to accelerate development of corona vaccine The target is to offer low-cost COVID-19 vaccines to countries as early as possible but the road is long, expensive and time consuming.
Before releasing any medicine in market human trial is necessary for ensuring safety, efficacy, durability and side effect. It is expensive also because volunteers are to be paid.
Kate Bingham, chief of the UK's vaccine taskforce, said, "These trials are safe, please sign up. The quicker we get the clinical trials enrolled, vaccinated and get the results, the quicker we can get a vaccine."
Dr Daniel Hoft, director of the Saint Louis University Centre for Vaccine Development, said. "What you are doing is providing compensation for time and trouble." "If the money seems extraordinarily attractive to you, think again," Arthur L. Caplan, a bioethicist, said. "You don't want to let compensation blind you to the need to pay attention to the risks." These appeals are very reasonable but application requires huge amount of money.
BBC News informs that more than 100,000 people have signed up to participate in a trial but researchers need more enrollments to speed up their efforts to find a safe and effective vaccine. They are particularly looking for more volunteers from the high-priority groups disproportionately affected by the virus belonging to ethnic minorities or aged over 65.
Moreover, 30,000 volunteers will randomly receive Moderna's experimental vaccine in the first late-stage trial, Question arises that if any volunteer is adversely affected by an experimental vaccine then who will compensate? Primarily it is the company but actually in some cases insurance company or the US government's pandemic relief fund covers those costs.
More than 25 (including Indian and Chinese) companies of the world are working on corona virus vaccines aiming at capturing market. Dr Anthony Fauci, a leading member of the White House Taskforce on corona virus, has warned that there is no guarantee that the ongoing research efforts will produce a successful vaccine within 12-18 months. Chief of Serum Institute, India has declared that corona vaccine for all will not be available before 2024 (Anandabazar, 15th September 2020).
The US government has preferred three companies to fund for Phase 3 trials - 1) Moderna, 2) the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca22, 3) Pfizer and BioNTech. On the other hand, Sputnik V developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow has been recently approved by Russian government as the world's first corona vaccine. Experts have raised considerable concern about its safety and efficacy as it has not yet entered 3rd phase clinical trial.
The world is anxiously waiting for a vaccine which is not yet ready. The U S government has announced an investment of around $ 2 billion contract with Pfizer and Bio N Tech, a German biotechnology company, for 100 million doses by December at $ 20 per dose subject to approval of Food and Drug Administration. The amount may raise upto 600 doses. Wherever be the origin, aim; of every company is same - profit.
The writer is a former
Commissioner of Taxes