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Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has signed a deal enabling the production and supply of its experimental COVID anti-viral drug in dozens of lower- and middle-income countries.
The agreement between the US company and the UN-backed international public health group Medical Patent Pool (MPP) would allow producers to manufacture and supply generic versions of the drug in 95 countries without the threat of patent infringement.
Most of the countries included in the deal are in Africa and Asia, covering about 53 percent of the world’s population.
“Pfizer remains committed to bringing forth scientific breakthroughs to help end this pandemic for all people,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said on Tuesday.
“We believe oral antiviral treatments can play a vital role in reducing the severity of COVID-19 infections, decreasing the strain on our healthcare systems and saving lives,” he added.
Later on Tuesday, Pfizer asked regulators in the United States to grant its pill emergency use authorisation. Generic companies can start preparations for the product once they get a licence, but have to wait for the regulatory approval before they can supply.
The company has said its late-stage trials showed the pill cut the chance of hospitalisation or death for adults at risk of severe disease by 89 percent. The trials evaluated data from 1,219 positive cases across North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The drug has proven to be most effective if taken at an early stage of infection and in combination with an older antiviral called ritonavir.
Bourla told the Reuters news agency in early November that the company was considering several pricing options for low-income countries, with the goal of “no barrier for them as well to have access”.
Ellen ‘t Hoen, director of Medicines Law & Policy noted that the deal allows countries that are excluded from the list to ask generic companies to supply the product under a compulsory licence. “This is an important feature of the MPP’s license,” she said. Compulsory licensing is when governments allow to waive patents’ rights without the licence owner’s consent.
“With a small molecule like this – easy to make and probably already being developed by generics – a simple compulsory or voluntary licence is sufficient,” she said, noting that for vaccine production the process is more complex as companies need technology transfer on top of a licence.
“This is an important precedent, as Pfizer has not licensed any COVID-related technology so far. The hope now is that Pfizer will do its second step with the MPP by transferring technology to enable the production of its vaccine,” she added.
Regina Osih, a medical doctor and infectious diseases specialist at the Aurum Institute in Johannesburg, South Africa, said the deal was “very important”.
“These kind of deals enable everybody to potentially access COVID medicament – they are still going to exclude someone, but they will improve the conversation around equitable access,” she said.
Still, medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) said it was “disheartened” by the agreement, noting that a number of countries including Argentina, Brazil, China, and Thailand were excluded from the agreement.
“We are disheartened to see yet another restrictive voluntary licence during this pandemic while cases continue to rise in many countries around the world,” said Yuanqiong Hu, a senior legal policy adviser with MSF Access Campaign.
“If Pfizer really wants to live up to its promise to contribute to equitable access to this new treatment, it should clearly state that they will not stand in the way of open generic production and competition, instead of signing restrictive voluntary licences, and lift any kind of intellectual property monopoly during this pandemic,” she said.
Pfizer’s move came after US pharmaceutical company Merck signed a similar royalty-free deal with the MPP last month to allow its anti-viral drug, molnupiravir, to be made and sold at low cost in 105 developing countries. Merck’s drug was approved by regulators in the UK earlier this month.
The moves by Pfizer and Merck to share the patents for their COVID-19 drugs came amid international pressure on pharmaceutical companies to share and transfer technologies to allow the production of generic versions of their COVID-19 vaccines. So far, Pfizer has refused to do so.
Critics have long argued that the reluctance to share vaccine recipes has contributed to the starkly uneven distribution of shots between rich and poor countries.
Only 4.6 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one shot, according to Our World in Data. Globally, 7.54 billion doses have been administered.
“Imagine what would have happened if they (vaccines makers) would have licensed their technology in May 2020,” Hoen, referring to the date the World Health Organization launched the Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) platform for companies to share vaccines’ intellectual property and know-how.
“Then, we would have enabled production capacity even in areas where today it does not exist,” she said.
Don’t put off a trip to the pumps too long as gas prices will likely start to rise again mid-week, says Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy.
The price of a litre of gas fell by 11 cents per litre on Sunday — the biggest drop in one day since January 2009 — due to concerns about the Omicron variant.
“I guess the word is take advantage of it while you can,” McTeague told the Toronto Sun.
On Saturday, gas at GTA stations was priced at around $1.45.9 per litre compared to $1.34.9 on Sunday. McTeague added he saw it even lower on Sunday in some places at 1.29.9.
“I predicted it, I guess, Friday afternoon,” McTeague said. “I watched all day as the market collapsed on a very light trading day. With oil dropping $10 a barrel, gasoline futures down 30 cents a gallon, which led to the 11 cents per litre drop (Sunday) morning, much to the relief of those who took my advice and waited.”
McTeague said he expects the market to correct itself on Monday, meaning that prices will likely start climbing by mid-week.
“The timing couldn’t have been worse because you pick a day when there’s extraordinarily light trading as the result of most American traders taking a holiday on Friday, of course (given) (American) Thanksgiving was Thursday. Without being impolite, the real traders will show up (Monday) morning and get back to work.”
McTeague added that OPEC was initially slated to meet Monday but delayed that meeting until Tuesday. By Friday or Saturday, the cost of a litre could increase by four or five cents.
“It’s hard to say. There are conflicting reports out there suggesting that the (Omicron) variant isn’t as dangerous as first thought. So we’ll see what happens,” said McTeague. “I just think markets were really hoodwinked in the sense that the headline (about Omicron fears) drove the trades, and I think it doesn’t take away from the fundamentals that the world is undersupplied in oil.”
OTTAWA – The signs of an unprecedented labor shortage in Canada are glaring: hospital emergency rooms closed because of a lack of nurses, restaurants skipping meals and fewer Santas in malls.
In Ottawa, a “Help Wanted” notice in the window of Corazon De Maiz restaurant — like those in storefronts across Canada — has gone mostly unanswered since the recent lifting of public health restrictions introduced 19 months ago to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The end of Covid-19 lockdowns brought droves of customers to the capital city eatery, but with kitchen staffing levels down, the restaurant has been unable to meet the demand for burritos and tacos.
“We’re suddenly busier, but we’re having to close early because my wife and I are exhausted after working all day,” owner Eric Igari told AFP.
One new hire worked three hours and quit, saying the job was too hard for not enough pay, Igari said.
“We’ve asked friends to pitch in, and even a few regular customers offered to help,” Igari said. Two customers actually worked a few shifts.
NO ‘HO HO HO’
Studies by the government and industry associations found that up to two-thirds of Canadian businesses are facing worker shortages, and claim the deficit is limiting their growth.
The industries most affected are health care, food services, manufacturing and construction.
According to the latest from Statistics Canada, there were a total of 1,014,600 job vacancies in September, including 196,100 in food services and 131,200 in health care — double the numbers from two years ago.
Trevin Stratton, a partner at Deloitte Canada, said factors contributing to the shortfall include an aging population leaving the workforce and lower recent immigration due to travel restrictions — which Canada lifted in September.
Some sectors are adapting through the use of technologies such as increased automation in manufacturing, e-commerce in retail, or allowing staff to work from home.
But in others, “many workers might not necessarily yet feel comfortable working somewhere where their physical presence is required,” Stratton said.
This is particularly true in the restaurant industry, which also shed workers fed up with the cycle of lockdowns and re-openings throughout the pandemic. “They’re now looking for more stability,” Stratton said.
With Christmas just weeks away, the trend has also impacted the supply of Santa actors usually hired for photos with children on their knee at shopping malls or professional mixers.
Jeff Gilroy of Just Be Claus said he’s turned down 200 Santa gigs in Ontario. After large gatherings were banned last Christmas, he told AFP, “people are looking to have a Santa to make it a more festive Christmas.”
Catherine Lacasse of the Professional Santa Claus Agency of Quebec said her province has ample Santas, “but we’re struggling to find enough elves.”
“In health care, we’ve seen an exodus, particularly of nurses this year,” Stratton said. “Some of that has to do with the stress of the job right now.”
Lachine hospital in Montreal was forced to close its emergency room at night due to a “critical shortage of nurses,” said spokeswoman Gilda Salomone.
Several others, she said, “are experiencing a major labor shortage that is limiting the quality and access to care.”
Observers have suggested simply raising salaries to lure workers.
But Jasmin Guenette of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said this “isn’t an option for many small businesses still struggling to recoup pandemic losses.”
“We see things slowly getting back to normal, going out to restaurants, for example, and we think that means businesses are doing well. But that’s not the case. The impact of the pandemic was severe, and is still being felt,” he said.
According to a CFIB survey, the average small business in Canada racked up Can$170,000 (US$135,000) in debts over the pandemic. And an estimated 180,000 businesses, or one in six, are now “at risk of closing.”
Chez Mere-Grand restaurant in Montreal sought for 21 weeks to hire a cook and a barista. Its owner Romain Beiso explained that the hiring pool is smaller because many people now insist on a better work-life balance and job security found in other sectors.
“Our wages are not competitive because we cannot afford it,” he also acknowledged.
Over at Hotel Place d’Armes, manager Benoit Pretet worries about being short 25 staff going into the holiday season.
“The clientele is back,” he said, “but we can’t open all our rooms.”
© Agence France-Presse
SYDNEY, Nov 29 (Reuters) – U.S. stock futures led a market rebound on Monday as investors prepared to wait a few weeks to see if the Omicron coronavirus variant would really derail economic recoveries and the tightening plans of some central banks.
Oil prices bounced more than $3 a barrel to recoup a chunk of Friday’s shellacking, while safe haven bonds and the yen lost ground as markets latched onto hopes the new variant of concern would prove to be “mild”.
While Omicron was already as far afield as Canada and Australia, a South African doctor who had treated cases said symptoms of virus were so far mild. read more
“Another key difference is there are far higher vaccination take up rates globally now compared with when Delta emerged,” said Craig James, chief economist at asset manager CommSec.
“What the news on Omicron does highlight is the need for central banks and governments to take a cautious approach to removal of economic support and stimulus.”
Trading was erratic on Monday but there were signs of stabilisation as S&P 500 futures added 1.0% and Nasdaq futures 1.2%. Both indices suffered their sharpest fall in months on Friday with travel and airline stocks hit hard.
EUROSTOXX 50 futures rallied 1.7%, while FTSE futures firmed 1.3%.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan (.MIAPJ0000PUS) eased 0.1%, but found support ahead of its 2021 low. Likewise, Japan’s Nikkei (.N225) recouped early losses to be almost unchanged.
Bonds gave back some of their hefty gains, with Treasury futures down 16 ticks. The market had rallied sharply as investors priced in the risk of a slower start to rate hikes from the U.S. Federal Reserve, and less tightening by some other central banks.
Two-year Treasury yields edged up to 0.56%, after falling 14 basis points on Friday in the biggest drop since March last year. Fed fund futures had pushed the first rate rise out by a month or so.
The shift in expectations undermined the U.S. dollar, to the benefit of the safe haven Japanese yen and Swiss franc.
On Monday the dollar had steadied somewhat at 113.71 yen , after sliding 1.7% on Friday. The dollar index held at 96.190, after Friday’s 0.7% drop.
The euro was struggling again at $1.1276 , following its rally from $1.1203 late last week.
European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde put a brave face on the latest virus scare, saying the euro zone was better equipped to face the economic impact of a new wave of COVID-19 infections or the Omicron variant. read more
The economic diary is also busy this week with China’s manufacturing PMIs on Tuesday to offer another update on the health of the Asian giant. The U.S. ISM survey of factories is out on Wednesday, ahead of payrolls on Friday.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speak before Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday.
In commodity markets, oil prices bounced after suffering their largest one-day drop since April 2020 on Friday.
“The move all but guarantees the OPEC+ alliance will suspend its scheduled increase for January at its meeting on 2 December,” wrote analyst at ANZ in a note.
“Such headwinds are the reason it’s been only gradually raising output in recent months, despite demand rebounding strongly.”
Brent rebounded 4.8% to $76.20 a barrel, while U.S. crude rose 5.2% to $71.71.
Gold has so far found little in the way of safe haven demand, leaving it stuck at $1,791 an ounce .
Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Richard Pullin, Shri Navaratnam and Lincoln Feast.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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