Access and benefit-sharing by the European Virus Archive in response to COVID-19

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of global collaboration and our reliance on fast and efficient sharing of pathogen genetic resources (PGR). Biobanking infrastructures are critical early responders to new viral outbreaks that share PGR in an affordable, safe, and impartial manner and can provide expertise to address access and benefit-sharing (ABS) issues. The European Virus Archive (EVA), a globally-distributed biobanking research infrastructure, has played a critical role in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic not only by distributing EU subsidized (free of charge) viral resources to users worldwide, but also by providing non-monetary benefit sharing, implementing ABS compliance, and raising ABS awareness amongst members and users. Here we show that all currently available SARS-CoV-2 material in the EVA catalogue are not ABS cases per se, but that multilateral benefit-sharing has nevertheless occurred. We propose and discuss how a multilateral PGR ABS system based on the EVA operational model could help bridge the discrepancies between the current bilateral legal framework for PGR and actual pandemic response practices. A multilateral, geographically distributed, and scientifically integrated system could significantly improve both frustrations with PGR availability during an outbreak and even, ultimately, tensions around vaccine nationalism. As discussions around the development of a global multilateral system for sharing PGR continue, the global health community and the World Health Organization (WHO) should look more closely at the EVA model.

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