Medicating the System: Making Access for the Poor a Research Priority

We, the academic community, are faced with an enormous challenge, one that confers great responsibility. Despite innumerable breakthroughs in biomedical research, our best efforts are not reaching the world’s sickest and poorest. Every year, 10 million people die needlessly, simply because they lack access to existing medicines and treatments. Even as we continue to improve the lives of patients with HIV, cancer and other ailments in developed countries, the plight of those in the developing world has not similarly improved.
In light of these alarming facts, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) has been lobbying universities across the country in order to change the way they license the ideas that pharmaceutical companies turn into drugs and other medical innovations. UAEM would like the University of California’s licensing practices to ensure that medicines are available at low-cost rates in developing countries.
In order to do this, we would like licensing policy to reflect on the following principles: first, that access to medicines is the primary goal of technology transfer activity; second, that technology transfer should ensure access to the end-product needed by patients (e.g. formulated pill or vaccine); third, that generic provision is the best and preferred way to ensure access in poor countries; fourth, that generic provision requires affirmative provisions for handling follow-on patents and data exclusivity.
These principles constitute UAEM’s Global Access Licensing Framework (GAL). The Framework envisioned by UAEM addresses the inequities that result from our current patenting and licensing practices.
Indeed, the university’s current practices have lost sight of the original purpose of patents: to encourage innovation for the public good. Instead, the pursuit of profit has ensured that only those with the means can receive adequate medical treatment.
Generic production is the answer to our present crisis. For example, the malaria drugs made by Drugs for Neglected Disease initiative (DNDi), Australian Medical Association of Queensland (AMAQ) and ASAQ (medication combining Artesunate and Amodiaquine) are being produced by multiple manufacturers without patent restrictions. As a result, treatment is only $1 per adult and $0.50 per child. While marketing a drug without any patents is not always possible, it is certainly feasible to allow generic production for sale in low and middle-income countries. This provision would not impact overall drug sales, as the world’s poorest countries contribute almost nothing to pharmaceutical companies’ profits.
In fall of 2008, UC chapters of UAEM garnered over a thousand students, faculty and community signatures on a letter to UC President Mark Yudof, urging him to adopt UC-wide licensing reform. In December, President Yudof invited UAEM to formally present its proposal to the system-wide Technology Transfer Advisory Committee (TTAC). UAEM’s members have lobbied the TTAC’s members, including vice chancellors, provosts and professors, while continuing to generate thousands of additional signatures to their original letter.
“Working in UC labs makes us certain that the UC’s innovations are globally relevant. The Global Access Licensing Framework makes that happen,” Taylor Gilliland, a UC San Diego Ph.D. student, observed. “Over three years of presentations, lectures, negotiations and meetings have led to this point,” Gilliland added. “From the response we’ve gotten across the state, we know this is a reform Bruins, Golden Bears and Aggies and Tritons all support.”
UAEM will present its policy reform to the TTAC on March 12 at the UC Office of the President in Oakland.
UAEM’s proposals have been endorsed by scientists and healthcare professionals, including 10 Nobel laureates, throughout the University of California and leading research institutions in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Africa. My fellow UEAMers and I strongly encourage you to join in the campaign to bring social responsibility back to the university. We are, after all, a public university, created to serve the public good.
If you would like to help or learn more, visit

Courtney Reynolds is a graduate student in the MD/Ph.D. program at UC Irvine’s Medical School. She is a member of UAEM. She can be reached at