Never forget how Oxford wanted to open source their vaccine but the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation stepped in and AstraZeneca got exclusive rights.

Oxford University surprised and pleased advocates of overhauling the vaccine business in April by promising to donate the rights to its promising coronavirus vaccine to any drugmaker.
A few weeks later, Oxford—urged on by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—reversed course.

@tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer @ffeth

So I took look at what actually happened, as this sounds like quite a flat story in khn. And indeed, the narrative of good scientists vs. bad pharma + Gates is a bit more nuanced. There apparently was a very good reason for the change of mind on the Oxford side:

Original source:
Archived version (no paywall):

Oxford University said it would offer “nonexclusive, royalty-free licenses” of its work to manufacturers. But as it developed one of the most promising vaccine candidates, the university debated whether it was equipped to conduct clinical trials and transfer its technology to manufacturers around the world.

Sir John Bell, who leads the development of Oxford’s health research strategies and chairs the Gates Foundation’s scientific advisory committee, reached out to Dr. Mundel. The advice was direct: “We told Oxford, ‘Hey, you’ve got to find a partner who knows how to run trials,’” Mr. Gates said.

Oxford chose the British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca. The Serum Institute of India, after getting the financial commitment from Mr. Gates, agreed in the summer to start producing the vaccine.

Note also, according to reports, AstraZeneca committed to do this in a way which won’t extract exuberant profits. But indeed, we do not know the details.

@tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer @ffeth

I am getting back to this older thread about how Oxford wanted to open-source their vaccine and Bill Gates stepped in and then the whole thing went allegedly wrong. It needs some further debunking.

So here is a fragment of an interview with Bill Gates by Derek Muller of Veritasium fame where he specifically asks Bill Gates about this KHN story.

Here you have how the sausage is made on the Intertubes. Somebody comes up with something on Twitter, or wherever, smart (but maybe just gullible?) people take it for granted and there you have a story. It saddens me that even many well educated people who should know better fall for this.

This is of course not a level of a proper conspiracy theory, but just giving it a second thought would raise some red flags. Not that I am smarter, in the past there were exactly such stories I fell for, but recognising how wrong I were made my BS detector much more sensitive.

@FailForward Yep this is rational.

Now, while I feel Gates is genuinely trying to make good in this world, I'm pretty sure the ways he takes are problematic.
Also I think he should not go away with corrupting the market and the political institutions of Europe as he did —the interviewers should remind him of this, and they never do.

@tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer

@ffeth An IMHO good insight into the good and bad of Bill Gates approach was in yesterdays The Daily Podcast episode of the New York times. Worth a listen: @FailForward @tetrapyloctomist

@FailForward I am not sure we heard the same thing. He fully admits that the Bill and Melinda Gates stepped in and told Oxford to find an industrial partner, which just happened to be AstraZeneca, which they know very well from their India engagement. The only thing he adds is that they (the foundation) were not involved in any negotiations, so the IP exclusivity is not their problem. @tetrapyloctomist @ffeth

That's interesting for me because I really fail to see why AstraZeneca could not have done the same without exclusive right if they are doing it as Bill says "on a nonprofit basis". Why couldn't Oxford give the formula to 7 factories that would all have done this? 3 of them might have messed it up, who knows, but we would still have 3 more production companies than today.
I fail to see logic or facts there, all I see is ideology (at best).
@tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer


Well, of course we do not know answers to these questions as these issues were and are a part of commercial negotiations and agreements. Why Oxford did what they did and what were their motivations and incentives is up to them to explain and to us to accept, however strange it might seem to us. We are not a party to that deal.

But logic of exclusivity is very understandable to me (I deal with these things regularly). When a buyer or a business partner takes significant risks in the deal and/or is asked to make further big investments to make it work, it’s a fairly normal practice to request exclusivity in some form. After all, in civil law, that’s what for instance marriage is too. Where I am, this is a normal business condition.

I think what’s important here is to realize what Bill Gates said in that interview: we shall see that AstraZeneca stepped up and went into this deal and hundreds of other pharma companies did not dare to do the same. So we might criticize AZ as much as we want, yet they deserve credit for making significant investments on their own and deliver for all of us. The alternative for them was to simply do nothing.

@tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer

@FailForward @tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer I get that, I'm not mad at AZ, I'm just :
a) unsure about the fact that tests could not have been conducted by Oxford with public help
b) disagreeing with Bill's rethoric of a "nonprofit" approach for AZ (they need money, that's fine, but don't BS us)
c) unsure that other companies would not have stepped up, AZ did it rather fast
d) convinced that their would have been better ways and that it did not improve that problem

@FailForward @tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer I doubt that vaccine researchers just suddenly discovered that what they had said about open-sourcing was not doable, that they could not do the trials, and that the whole "give AZ exclusive rights solution" was the way to go
To me, in the absence of a better explanation, it all looks like political and ideological calls.
Again, I'm not saying Bill's evil incarnate, he probably means it, I just think that this is purely ideology disguised as realism.

@silmathoron @FailForward @tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer

How much of a vaccine / epidemiology expert is Bill gates, ?he dropped out of college (studying computer science I guess), set up Microsoft and then set up the bill end Melinda gates foundation.

What qualifications does he have to comment on vaccines?

Well, I don't know about you but, to be fair, he probably knows more about the vaccine market than me, he's been in there a while.
But researchers had made a public announcement that they would open source it. And I have trouble buying that they and the Oxford PR did that lightly.
@FailForward @tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer

@silmathoron @FailForward @tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer
Same here, there was a post on here with the genetic code for the vaccine being reversed engineered

I made a blog post on linking to the article

@silmathoron @zleap

I totally agree with @silmathoron. Bill Gates might be a drop out, but this guy knows how to learn. After all, what is a PhD in an area? Monk-like focused mental effort to study an area deeply. You can achieve that either by yourself (Bill Gates does that), or by going to school (the path for the rest of us). Listening to this gentleman over the last years, I think his knowledge is deep and often not recognised. I have a great respect for him.

@tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer

@FailForward The theory was that AZ (according to Gates in that YouTube sequence) is a reliable company that knows how to scale up production and has the network to deliver big amounts of doses fast. That simply didn't happen. Quite the opposite, at least for us in the EU. AZ has repeatedly missed their agreed targets and they still don't deliver as promised. So sure, it might have looked good a few months ago but in reality it didn't go as planned. IMHO. @silmathoron @zleap @tetrapyloctomist

@FailForward You are now saying that Gates is still right and the problems cannot really be discussed here as they are part of proprietary, non-public contracts etc between AZ and the EU/UK. And I just say that this is the *result* of exclusivity. I guess we can agree on that?@silmathoron @zleap @tetrapyloctomist


Well, whether Gates is right or not is besides the point. He’s not a party to the deal. He was only providing advice there - as far as we know.

Re exclusivity: yes we cannot discuss it here as we don’t have the relevant information. This is a commercial and confidential deal between two independent entities. Unless UK government forces Oxford University to open up about the deal, we cannot expect AZ to do so.

We are discussing this as if it were a public goods, but it is not - unless UK government forces the Uni to make it such. And they could, after all, it was all paid with taxpayers money.

@silmathoron @zleap @tetrapyloctomist

@jwildeboer @silmathoron @zleap @tetrapyloctomist

Either way, I hope we can now all agree the original KHN article read but based on facts and is debunked now. That was all I was after here.

@FailForward I am not convinced. My takeaway still is that Oxford wanted to offer production licenses to more than one company but after intervention they (for me surprisingly) agreed to an exclusive deal with AZ that turned out to be not as successful as hoped/planned. And the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation definitely played a role in that change of mind. @silmathoron @zleap @tetrapyloctomist


Well, I am not to convince anyone. But let’s also see that everybody including the decision makers at Oxford are adults. Let’s not take away agency from them. Whether on advice of Bill Gates or somebody else, the decision they took is theirs and they are responsible for it, not Bill Gates.

@silmathoron @zleap @tetrapyloctomist

@FailForward @jwildeboer @silmathoron @tetrapyloctomist
Indeed you ask for advice, take each weigh that up, look at evidence, and then make a decision surely.

@jwildeboer @FailForward @silmathoron @zleap @tetrapyloctomist The financial agreements were in that EU document the EU released - there's no profit until the pandemic is over (at least July, probably later); it lists everything they can include in the cost.


Yes, you are absolutely right. I am as disappointed about the whole AZ theatre as you are. I too think this is badly mismanaged project on their side.

Could we have known a year ago, though? Probably not. After all AZ had the top notch credentials. It’s a mess indeed.

@silmathoron @zleap @tetrapyloctomist

@FailForward I haven't forgotten their Oopsie with giving wrong doses to trial participants last year. It was quickly painted as a "happy accident" that fueled hope that it could boost efficacy of the vaccine (which, AFAICS didn't happen and the current regime is not using this "half dose first" approach). @silmathoron @zleap @tetrapyloctomist

@jwildeboer @FailForward @silmathoron @zleap @tetrapyloctomist I think the half-dose idea is actually compatible with the increased 12 week gap idea; they'd both end up with less effect of the 1st dose by the time the 2nd dose is given; [which as a non-biologist, I'm wondering if the problem is the immune system goes after the vector virus; a problem Sputnik V gets around by using a different vector for the 2 doses].

@zleap @silmathoron @FailForward @tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer zero. Same as for rooting for nuke plants in the backyards. And for making dependable, privacy-respecting software. And for non-predatory business practices.


If you agree with the point on research scientist vs. process engineer I made above, what would open-sourcing it bring? And Bill Gates explains why it might be counterproductive: you need to screw up only once and in a relatively minor way to completely break public trust in this kind of a product. We shall recognise that vaccines are not software. It sounds reasonable to me. And in the end, we’ll never know what could have been, just what really happened.

@tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer

I agree that you could not delegate testing to any random company.
I would have favored testing by Oxford + public companies/funding, then open-sourcing vaccine for production post-test.
As I mentioned, scientists should be perfectly capable (provided money) to run such clinical trials.
UK+EU/ERC could have provided the funds
@tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer


For some more context: I just came over an article in The Guardian listing the available vaccines together with some economics of each company. I think the AZ story is peanuts here.

@tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer

@FailForward @tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer thanks for the link.
I agree, as I said before, I have nothing against AZ, I don't think they did anything wrong.
I'm mostly angry at Bill and whoever in Oxford decided that pleasing the Gates Foundation was the best way forward.
But maybe I'm mistaken and it was indeed the best way forward, though my current understanding of the situation makes me think that this is highly unlikely.


Thanks for your response, this is becoming an interesting conversation.

a - well, I am not an expert in this, but I know for certain that developing a molecule in a lab in small quantities and creating a process for producing hectolitres of it are two very different processes requiring two very different mindsets (research scientist vs. process engineer). Personally (as I have quite some experience with academia), I highly doubt 95% of scientists are well positioned to execute that engineering task.
b - nonprofit: well, we don’t know the details of course. Non-profit might simlply mean that AZ will recover its costs and will get all the benefit of positive press from it (not a negligible value!)
c - there’s a saying: “he gives twice who gives quickly”. And I think it’s very relevant in this pandemic.
d - see 3/c.

@tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer


Re the Nature post: Thanks for the pointer. Yes, I agree with the sentiment. I think it was best articulated in an article I read few days ago by Y.N. Harrari. Check the quote at the end of this toot:

@tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer

@FailForward @tetrapyloctomist @jwildeboer @ffeth

I don't understand why everyone always has to mention "conspiracy theories" and stay in this frame made by spin doctors: if what Bill Gates does is not a warning light telling us that we use the word democracy only for that formal rite which is the universal suffrage elections and we are instead in a financial oligarchy, I do not understand what it still takes to open the debate.

@jwildeboer according to his "letter to fellow vaccinists"?

@jwildeboer this is almost enough to make me an antivaxxer out of pure spite


Relevant speech by French MEP Manon Aubry against European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen and Big Pharma:

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