Crowdfunding Vaccine Development

post by River (frank-bellamy) · 2021-05-08T04:10:42.805Z · LW · GW · 7 comments

Imagine that at the beginning of the pandemic, March 2020, you were given the opportunity to buy a place in the queue to get the vaccine. Imagine knowing nothing more than you actually did in March 2020. You don’t know how long it will take to develop a vaccine, or which companies will do it, or exactly how effective it will be, or what if any side effects it will have. You don’t know what kind of pandemic rules will be in place where or for how long. How much would you pay for that place in the vaccine queue? My personal answer, given that I had not much income at the time, is $100, but figure out for yourself what your answer is.

Got a number in mind?

Yes?

Good.

Now lets compare it to what is needed. Operation Warp Speed spent $12.4 billion. A dose of Pfizer/BioNTech costs $19.50, and lets assume conservatively that 300 million doses will be given in the US. That’s $18.25 billion getting spent on vaccines for 150 million people, or $121.67 per person. Was your number above that? Do you think the average number of those 150 million people was above that? I think so. My number specific to March 2020 was only a little below that, and at other times in my life would have been much higher. I’m sure a few particularly well off people would have paid $10k or $100k to be at the very front of the queue. If I’m right that the average amount those 150 million people would pay for a place in a vaccine queue is above $121.67, then crowdfunding vaccine development, with the promise of distributing vaccines in descending order of crowdfunding contribution amount, would have provided at least as good an incentive as the world we actually have.

Why does this matter? If you think the current system will continue to work fine in the future, it doesn’t. But if, like Zvi [LW · GW], you think the Biden administration has just actively destroyed the ability of the current system to develop vaccines in response to future pandemics, then you should care about alternatives. If, like me, you think it was never a good idea for the government to tell N - 1 companies to wait 20 years before they can manufacture life-saving vaccines (this is what a patent is), then you should care about alternatives. 

7 comments

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comment by tkpwaeub (gabriel-holmes) · 2021-05-11T11:25:24.295Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Option #1: Something similar to ASCAP, but for vaccines. You pay a flat fee to a "vaccine guild", and that gives you a license to produce whatever you want. In essence, a form of insurance against accidental patent infringement.

Option #2: a simple penalty for not getting vaccinated. Maybe the vaccine passports could include a paid option for anyone who won't get vaccinated, and some of the funds could be allocated to R&D

Option #3: A congestion tax on in-person indoor gatherings.

Option #4: An across the board increase in patent maintenance fees, possibly linked to expected income from a patent. Failure to pay the fee results in the patent getting auctioned off (maybe 2nd price sealed bid?)

Replies from: ChristianKl, frank-bellamy
comment by ChristianKl · 2021-05-13T08:26:36.893Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In essence, a form of insurance against accidental patent infringement.

Why do you believe accidental patent infringement is a concern for a sizeable number of people producing vaccines?

Option #4: An across the board increase in patent maintenance fees, possibly linked to expected income from a patent.

That seems about "how can we make Eroom's law keep going" instead of doing anything helpful for biotech (other area's have different considerations regarding patents). 

Replies from: gabriel-holmes
comment by tkpwaeub (gabriel-holmes) · 2021-05-13T09:43:59.970Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually for the mRNA vaccines accidental patent infringement seems highly likely, since the underlying platform is well understood, much of the research originated in universities with direct government funding, and the genetic code for viruses is routinely released into the public domain.

I haven't looked up "Eroom's law" yet.

comment by River (frank-bellamy) · 2021-05-13T13:52:59.331Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For me at least, the point is to figure out what can substitute for a failure of the patent system. You might see the patent system as likely to fail in the future because Biden just undermined it. I also think patents were just always a bad idea. So I'm trying to think of how we can get vaccines in a world where there just aren't patents. #1 and 4 seem to presuppose a functioning patent system, so I'm not a fan. #2 and 3 are more interesting. They would both require a credible pre-commitment from the government to enforce such taxation and give it to the pharma companies. Do you think it could make such a credible pre-commitment? Especially after what it just did with the vaccine patents?

comment by ChristianKl · 2021-05-08T22:11:13.179Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If, like me, you think it was never a good idea for the government to tell N - 1 companies to wait 20 years before they can manufacture life-saving vaccines (this is what a patent is), then you should care about alternatives. 

Patents are not the core of what prevents companies from developing life saving vaccines unless the government only allows patent protected vaccines to be sold which is effectively the case at the moment. There are many different non-patent protected ways to get a bunch of spike proteins into a person so that they produce antibodies against the virus. 

Even when it comes to patent protected vaccines it's possible for other companies to produce them. They just have to pay royalities for the patent and there are plenty of such deals made.

comment by Measure · 2021-05-08T11:57:19.941Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most of the value I get from vaccine development is in ending the pandemic as soon as possible, and this doesn't depend on my position in the queue. Thus I would be willing to spend a significant amount to kickstart vaccine development even with no change in queue order.

comment by tkpwaeub (gabriel-holmes) · 2021-05-11T11:20:13.183Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Vaccines should be paid for from peak load pricing of in-person indoor activities.