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Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute

QMIPRI Spotlight Series: Professor Duncan Matthews

Queen Mary’s Intellectual Property Research Institute (QMIPRI) is an internationally renowned research institution in intellectual property and related areas of commercial law. Over the next few months we will be featuring members of QMIPRI and showcasing their research. In the first part of the series we focus on Professor Duncan Matthews, Director of QMIPRI.

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Professor Matthews is a leading expert on intellectual property and over the past 25 years he has worked across multiple international policy areas including access to medicines. He has advised the United Nations as well as the European Commission and in recent months has made several media appearances where he has discussed the wide-ranging legal implications of the Covid-19 pandemic.

What do you consider the most significant aspects of your work to be?

“My research focuses on the policy implications of the patent system. This system is designed to reward and incentivise inventions that benefit society. But the patent system can also lead to unintended consequences in terms of restricting access to these new technologies. My research is at the interface between the patent system and access, focusing on the actual or potential consequences of patents in fields such as access to HIV/AIDS drugs, access to Covid-19 vaccines and access to genome editing techniques that in the future could eradicate hereditary diseases in unborn children.”

What is your proudest achievement when it comes to your research?

“There are a few things which spring to mind. In 2011, the same year as my book Intellectual Property, Human Rights and Development was published, I was invited by the United Nations Development Programme to co-author (with Professor Carlos Correa) a report on The Doha Declaration Ten Years on and Its Impact on Access to Medicines and the Right to Health. The report has been used widely by governments in developing countries and I am very proud of that achievement. Also, in 2016 I was invited by the United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines to host a Global Dialogue in London and to submit evidence to show the impact that anti-competitive practices in the pharmaceutical sector can have on access to medicines. My study for the United Nations was later noticed by the OECD and I was then invited to Paris to talk to national competition enforcement agencies about this in 2019. It is always good to see my recommendations being put into practice.”

Is there anything surprising to come out of your research?

“My current research on Access to CRISPR Genome Editing Technologies: Patents, Human Rights and the Public Interest is fascinating. The European Patent Office (EPO) is being asked to decide whether genome editing inventions that alter the germline identity of human beings are patentable. The EPO is basically being asked to perform a regulatory function that has implications for medical ethics, bioscience, human rights and law. I have put together a great team of experts from these different disciplines to work on my project and we will soon be submitting our evidence to the World Health Organization’s expert committee on the governance and oversight of human genome editing, which has asked to see our findings."

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Professor Matthews has been in demand from the media for his expertise, particularly in relation to research concerning a potential vaccine for the virus. Earlier this year he gave a series of interviews on the problem of vaccine nationalism. This term is used to describe the situation when a country manages to secure doses of vaccines for its own citizens or residents and prioritises its own domestic markets before they are available in other countries.

More recently Professor Matthews wrote an opinion piece for The Conversation in which he argued that pharmaceutical companies should be more transparent when it comes to a potential Covid-19 vaccine. When it emerged that Russia had granted regulatory approval to a coronavirus vaccine after less than two months of testing, Professor Matthews was interviewed by Reuters, CNN, CBC, and the Times of India. It is likely that the media will continue to draw upon experts from QMIPRI as further IP implications of the Covid-19 pandemic become clear.