Access by Design, Benefits if Convenient: A Closer Look at the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework’s Standard Material Transfer Agreements

January 2019 | Michelle Rourke | Original Scholarship

Policy Points:

  • Securing access to pathogen samples for research purposes is crucial for pandemic preparedness and responding to infectious disease outbreaks.
  • The Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework (PIP Framework) is the only pathogen-specific international access and benefit-sharing (ABS) instrument.
  • This analysis reveals that during an influenza pandemic, the PIP Framework will safeguard access to virus samples but may not be as effective in delivering the associated benefits, like vaccines and antivirals, to countries in need.
  • The PIP Framework’s deficiencies must be addressed before an influenza pandemic and before this ABS model is extended to other human pathogens.

Context: The World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework (PIP Framework) after being forced to grapple with the demands of developing countries for the fairer distribution of vaccines and antivirals created using influenza viruses isolated from within their territories. Though adopted as a nonbinding resolution, the PIP Framework has been praised for its novel legal approach to access and benefit-sharing (ABS), using Standard Material Transfer Agreements (SMTAs) to create binding terms and conditions on both providers and users of PIP biological materials. The PIP Framework’s SMTA1 regulates the movement of influenza viruses with human pandemic potential through the WHO’s Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) as it operates to monitor the spread of seasonal influenza and detect the emergence of pandemic strains. Member States give consent to the WHO to transfer their materials to third parties under the terms of a negotiated SMTA2. The SMTA2 details benefits such as vaccines and antivirals to be made available to the WHO for distribution in the event of an influenza pandemic.

Methods: I analyzed the PIP Framework, its SMTAs, and secondary sources to determine whether the PIP Framework will effectively function as an ABS instrument during an influenza pandemic.

Findings: The SMTAs do not create any direct or binding agreements between Member States and third-party recipients of influenza viruses. In the lead-up to and during a pandemic, the SMTA1 secures access to influenza viruses for the WHO, and the SMTA2 secures access for commercial users of virus samples, but the SMTA2 may be ineffective in securing tangible benefits for the sovereign providers of those materials.

Conclusions: As the international community starts to consider how to best regulate access to nonpandemic influenza pathogen samples, it is imperative that we first address the shortcomings of the only pathogen-specific international ABS instrument available, and we should do so before it is put to the ultimate test.

Keywords: access and benefit-sharing, PIP Framework, pandemic influenza, World Health Organization, genetic resources.

Read on Wiley Online Library

Volume 97, Issue 1 (pages 91-112)
DOI: 10.1111/1468-0009.12364
Published in 2019