❮ Return to Our Work

Blog Post | April 16, 2021

The Brother Of A Pharma Lobbyist Advises Biden As He Weighs Vaccine IP Waiver

CoronavirusExecutive BranchIntellectual PropertyRevolving Door
The Brother Of A Pharma Lobbyist Advises Biden As He Weighs Vaccine IP Waiver

Former corporate lobbyist and current White House Counselor Steve Ricchetti is one of the most notorious revolvers currently serving in the Biden Administration. Ricchetti, who co-founded the lobbying firm “Ricchetti, Inc.” with his brother Jeff in 2001, has profited for decades off of corporate clients, often including the healthcare industry. 

With Steve Ricchetti in Biden’s inner circle, his brother Jeff has enjoyed the benefits of being a corporate lobbyist with insider connections. Following Biden’s 2020 victory, Jeff Ricchetti experienced a surge in his clientele, leading to his biggest batch of corporate clients since 2014. When President Biden named Steve Ricchetti as his White House advisor in late November, Jeff had already secured nearly a dozen contracts (including a lucrative one for Amazon) and earned at least $635,000 in lobbying fees. Although Jeff Richetti has reportedly rejected requests from clients to lobby his brother, some of his longtime colleagues believe that clients might still seek him out because his brother works in the White House.

Despite pushback from progressives, Ricchetti has continued to hold a powerful advisory position in the Biden White House. His background in corporate lobbying and strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry are  deeply troubling signs as the Biden Administration faces enormously consequential decisions about how to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steve Ricchetti’s Big Pharma Ties Present a Clear Conflict of Interest 

With the Biden Administration yet to name a U.S. PTO Director (the official who usually briefs the President and diplomatic corps on intellectual property issues), Steve Ricchetti’s influence in the White House represents a dangerous threat to global vaccine equality. 

Ricchetti Inc.’s Big Pharma clients include Novartis, Eli Lilly, and Sanofi, and Steve himself represented other Pharma firms before his most recent turn back into government. These firms might not have produced COVID-19 vaccines themselves, but they certainly recognize the threat that calls for open-sourced treatment poses to their own predatory business practices. As soon as the legitimacy of property rights over life-saving treatment is questioned in one case — and the government actually mobilizes in response, aiding the sick instead of the IP-owners — it becomes a lot easier to imagine future challenges to these firms’ own patented pharmaceutical products

That threat to Big Pharma is especially great since nearly all “innovation” that becomes intellectual property is, like mRNA technology, the product of government funded research.

Eli Lilly, in particular, manufactures and limits access to insulin, a decades-old life-saving drug that is cheap to produce but exorbitantly expensive for most diabetics. Why? Most principally, patents held by Eli Lilly and other insulin oligopolists, including on second-order parts of the drug’s production, like non-active ingredients or delivery pens, have kept generic versions of insulin off the market. Similar stories underlie the high cost of PrEP, epinephrine injectors like Epipens, and more. As the patent-driven Pharma business model faces its most prominent challenge in decades, Jeff Ricchetti’s clients are likely desperate for Biden to oppose waiving global intellectual property rules on COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization. Will that desperation make its way back to Jeff’s brother?

The Biden Administration’s Responsibility to Expand Access to the COVID-19 Vaccine

The Ricchetti brothers’ influence in the White House is especially troubling in light of the US’ ongoing resistance to waiving intellectual property over various aspects of COVID-19 vaccine production, which would enable far greater vaccine production worldwide at the cost of reduced profits for Big Pharma. There is a vast global inequality in vaccinations; as of April 1, 2021, wealthy countries had more than twice as many vaccines available as eligible citizens, while at least 30 mostly poorer countries had not vaccinated a single person according to The New York Times. 

The global community’s main plan to reduce vaccine inequality, the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Plan (COVAX) is woefully inadequate for the scale of this humanitarian crisis, in part because COVAX is forced to fight with wealthy countries for vaccine doses from pharmaceutical companies clinging to their patents. Despite warnings that COVAX couldn’t possibly match the needs of poorer countries, pharmaceutical companies and billionaire Bill Gates have stood in the way of open-sourcing vaccine technology and the creation of a true “People’s Vaccine.”

The failure of the patent system to provide access to lifesaving medicine and technology is not a new problem; progressives have long warned about how the U.S. patent system exacerbates inequality and harms innovation. However, with the stakes as high as they are, the Ricchetti-advised executive branch’s decisions on patents in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic could have global and deadly consequences.

Given Steve Ricchetti’s Big Pharma ties and Ricchetti Inc.’s clients’, we urge Steve Ricchetti to abstain from all Pharma-related matters, especially regarding the next PTO Director. Steve Ricchetti’s influence, particularly regarding the TRIPS waiver, could threaten global vaccine equality. It is a risk we cannot afford to take.

PHOTO: “COVID-19 Vaccine At The Orange County Convention Center” by Whoisjohngalt is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

CoronavirusExecutive BranchIntellectual PropertyRevolving Door

More articles by Fatou Ndiaye More articles by Zena Wolf

❮ Return to Our Work