GENEVA (AP) — Spanish government researchers have agreed to allow other manufacturers to make their coronavirus antibody test, in a move that could significantly boost testing in poor countries with limited COVID-19 surveillance.
In a statement on Tuesday, the World Health Organization and the U.N.-backed Medicines Patent Pool said the Spanish National Research Council had signed a licensing agreement for its COVID-19 antibody test. It is the first time any manufacturer has allowed its coronavirus test to be included in a technology pool set up by WHO.
The U.N. agency started a COVID-19 pool last year, hoping to convince makers of virus tests, treatments and vaccines to share their licenses so that products could be produced and used globally to stop the pandemic. Until this week, not a single manufacturer had agreed to help.
The agreement with the Spanish developers covers all related patents and the biological ingredients needed to make the test, WHO said. It said the test is easy to use and suitable for low- and middle-income countries with a basic laboratory network. The antibody test can distinguish between vaccinated people and those who have had a natural COVID-19 infection, a distinction that could help authorities refine their pandemic control measures as immunization campaigns are rolled out.
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“I urge 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,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement. Fewer than 1% of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines have gone to poor countries.
Stijn Deborggraeve, diagnostics advisor for Doctors Without Borders’ Access Campaign, said he hoped the agreement would speed up testing capacity in the developing world.
“We have witnessed hoarding of not just vaccines and treatments but also of COVID-19 diagnostics, which has left many low- and middle-income countries without much-needed tests to help in controlling COVID-19,” Deborggraeve said in a statement. He called on the pharmaceutical giant Roche, which makes a WHO-approved COVID-19 test, to openly share its technology.
Deborggraeve described the agreement with Spain as “a promising step forward to break monopolies like Roche’s and to allow all countries to develop and manufacture this lifesaving technology.”
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