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As Covid-19 sweeps the globe, a growing number of efforts are underway to quickly research and develop treatments and vaccines. Yet much of the work is disjointed and widespread access to any medical product is uncertain. One idea, suggested by Costa Rican officials, is for the World Health Organization to create a voluntary pool and collect patent rights, regulatory test data, and other information that could be shared for product development. The notion is attracting interest, but Paul Fehlner wants to go a step further. The former global head of intellectual property at Novartis — who now works in a similar role at Axcella Health, but also launched a separate startup — now wants to start a public benefit entity to repurpose generic drugs. The nascent plan is to collect research data, submit whatever looks promising to regulators, and permit existing generic manufacturers to add Covid-19 use to their labels under terms that would require affordable pricing. We spoke with him about his idea. This is an edited version of the conversation.

Pharmalot: What is it you’re trying to do and why?

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