Universities Can Help Save Lives by Adopting Innovative Intellectual Property Policies

Universities are in a unique position to draft licensing and patent strategies for development of life-saving medicines and technologies that benefit low-and middle-income countries, according to an editorial by faculty and students working at the Yale Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA).

According to the editorial, published in the September 19 issue of Science, a group of experts recently met at Yale and created a report detailing ways in which universities can tailor technologies to low- and middle-income countries. The full report titled “Access to Essential Medicines and University Research: Building Best Practices” can be found at http://cira.med.yale.edu.

The report recommends that to make drugs universally accessible, universities should not patent their discoveries in targeted developing countries. The report also states that universities could negotiate clauses in their licensing agreements that require the products be available in low- and middle-income countries quickly, in sufficient quantities, and at an appropriate cost.

The editorial, written by Michael Merson, M.D., Dean and the Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health at Yale School of Medicine, along with recent Yale Law School graduates Amy Kapczynski and E. Tyler Crone, points out that in 2001 alone, universities were granted over 3,000 patents. Merson stated, “They [patents] not only bring revenue, but controversy, when they ensure power over commodities that are the very currency of life itself.”

The editorial refers to the discussions between Yale University and Bristol-Myers Squibb that resulted in the first patent concession on an AIDS drug and a 30-fold reduction in price of the patented drug in South Africa. “Such actions should not hurt universities’ bottom line, diminish their ability to strike licensing deals, or discourage innovation because there is little profit at stake,” Merson and his colleagues write in the editorial.

While universities and other public institutions have taken steps to make drugs more affordable and available, the editorial says these actions are still far too rare, particularly for diseases that are not as politically relevant as AIDS.

“Where lives and health are at stake, universities should not pass the buck,” according to the editorial. “University research is intended to advance the common public good. It is time that it consistently do so globally, as well as locally.”

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Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326