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Investors urge pharmacy companies to collaborate on COVID-19 response

Shift supervisor Shonte Dixon stands behind a makeshift divider installed on the checkout counter at a CVS Pharmacy in Evansville, Ind., March 26, 2020, to mitigate exposure to the coronavirus. (CNS photo/Macabe Brown, Reuters)

NEW YORK — An investor coalition has called on 14 large pharmaceutical firms to collaborate in developing health technologies, including diagnostic tests, treatments and a vaccine, in response to the new coronavirus.

The investors, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, urged the companies to “govern with financial prudence and a commitment to uphold your social license to operate by ensuring affordable access to all” of any care options related to the illness that has swept around the globe since November.

“It is not hyperbole to say that the eyes of the world are trained on pharmaceutical companies in the hopes of the swift development of tests and a vaccine,” Lauren Compere, managing director and director of shareholder engagement at Boston Common Asset Management, said in a statement released by ICCR accompanying the April 1 letter.

The letter was made public April 7 by ICCR.

“We have long engaged these companies, both individually and collectively via roundtables, around strategies to increase the access and affordability of life-saving medicines. We know they have the capacity to do this. We also know they will accomplish more and faster if they work together,” Compere said.

The investors cited a litany of actions the pharmaceutical companies can take, from sharing compounds and data among researchers to accelerate the development of diagnostics, treatments and a vaccine to advocating for the U.S. government and other parties to support collaborative efforts among countries in response to the virus.

Other steps urged include support for low- and middle-income nations that lack resources to adequately respond to the COVID-19 threat by not enforcing intellectual property rights; support for governments’ decision to issue compulsory licenses to ensure affordable prices; and issuing voluntary licenses and exploring licensing agreements with existing organizations to facilitate access to new technologies.

The investors in particular point to the $700 million investment through U.S. taxpayer dollars the companies have received since 2002 to support research as a primary reason for the companies to act with prudence in their research related to the virus.

The letter also pressed the firms to maintain a commitment to data quality and patient safety, saying “while speeding up the development of vaccines and medicines is of the utmost urgency, this should not come at the expense of patient safety.”