Major pharmaceutical companies are doing an inadequate job of making their products available to the populations of impoverished countries. Universities have a role to play in changing that, says the international student group Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM). UAEM believes university technology transfer protocols should be about much more than generating profits.
The group said in their Philadelphia Consensus Statement issued as a result of a conference in 2006:
Given their avowed commitment to the public good, universities should measure success in
technology transfer by impact on global human welfare rather than simply by financial return.
The positive social impact from university innovations - particularly in poor countries - would go
largely unnoticed if technology transfer were to be measured in dollars alone.
The UAEM has active chapters in universities across the U.S. as well as in Canada, Europe and Africa and is dedicated to promoting access to medicines for persons in developing countries, ensuring that university medical research meets the needs of the majority of the world's population and empowering students to respond to the access and innovation crisis.
Tens of millions die each year suffering from diseases with existing cures because of lack of access to the necessary pharmaceuticals. Additionally, a number of ailments running rampant in developing countries have little to no research dollars because there is no profit incentive to encourage commercial development. These neglected diseases impacting millions of the world's impoverished peoples receive less than 10% of research and development dollars, yet represent 90% of worldwide health problems.
UAEM believes institutions of higher learning must be part of the solution to this crisis because "universities are uniquely positioned to influence the way lifesaving medical technologies are developed and deployed." However, UAEM also says that "drugs developed at universities have remained largely out of reach for millions of the destitute sick in the developing world."
In its Consensus Statement, UAEM has developed proposals to address this worldwide healthcare crisis, the core of these being:
When a university licenses a promising new drug candidate to a pharmaceutical company,
it should require that the company allow the drug to be made available in poor countries at
the lowest possible cost. This would have virtually no financial impact on the company or
university, but could ultimately save millions of lives.
UAEM's Global Access to Medicines Day, part of the Global Health Week of Action, promotes awareness of the critical need for university implementation of global access licensing of academic research. The group also has backed legislation, sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), to help ensure innovations developed at universities and other federally-funded institutions are made available in developing countries at the lowest possible cost.
This is another instance where profit seeking behavior by universities produces a negative global impact and should be rapidly corrected. Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health said, "For too long, life-saving medical tools that are the fruits of university-led discovery have been denied to poor people in poor countries. If our universities really are to be institutions for the public good, this must change."
With Bayh-Dole reform once again on the agenda of Congress, intellectual property advocates such as UAEM and IP Advocate will be in the forefront of the debate for much-needed change. Nobel Laureate in Medicine, Sir John Sulston also espouses the need for immediate change saying, "Biomedical knowledge and achievement is growing at a tremendous pace, but is unmatched by ethical thinking about how to apply the results equitably, humanely and wisely. The universities are forgetting their role as guardians of human wisdom, and instead are selling out to the highest bidders. UAEM has created consensus. Now is the time for policy makers to act."