Buying Know-How to Scale Vaccine Manufacturing

James Love
6 min readMar 20, 2021

The development of a number of COVID 19 vaccines has been an impressive achievement, one that can be attributed to a genuine sense that this was an emergency, and the fact that governments spent billions of dollars to subsidize or completely pay for research and development, and de-risking the scale up of products through massive advanced purchase contracts. What has been less impressive has been the effort to scale the manufacturing efforts to meet demand. One tool that has not been used, and should be mobilized, right now, is to spend money to make the know-how a global public good.

Buyouts of manufacturing know-how, access to cell lines, and rights in inventions and data, isn’t cheap, but it will be less expensive than trying to vaccinate the world without doing so.

Buying manufacturing know-how in 2021 wasn’t the best approach. When governments started throwing money at companies to develop vaccines, they could have acquired the rights to inventions, data, know-how, and biologic resources, then, and it would not have been expensive. That did not happen. Now, once these assets are largely privatized, on terms unfavorable to the public that paid for the R&D, it’s going to be more expensive.

The fact that there are now several vaccines in the market and more in development makes the task more manageable. If governments could collaborate to create a buyout fund, they can offer to pay for full technology transfer. This can be done with or without royalties from generic suppliers, although, to truly open source the know-how, and make it a global public good, royalties, if desired, can be replaced with payments from a fund to reward vaccines that become the most important in terms of their use and efficacy, such as was proposed by Barbados and Bolivia to the WHO in 2008. (see discussions here and here ) for a Priority Medicines and Vaccines Prize Fund (PMV/pf), as well as similar proposals (see discussions here and here)

There are a number of sources of manufacturing know-how that would not require particularly expensive buyouts or future payments based upon future uses of a vaccine. Small firms, technology transfer consultants, academics, former employees of vaccine manufacturers, companies that don’t have a candidate themselves, all may have useful contributions that…

James Love

Director, Knowledge Ecology International, an NGO working on knowledge governance