I once heard Rachel Kiddell-Monroe (the former president of UAEM) give a talk about her time working in a MSF hospital in Rwanda during the genocide. Upon arrival, she was being given a tour around the various units when she encountered a door that was completely shut. When she looked inside, she saw a room full of patients with HIV, all very close to death, and nothing being done to improve their health. The response she received from the MSF headquarters was simple: “Do you know how much it costs to treat a single patient with HIV? There’s nothing we can do for these people.”
As an international organization, UAEM aims to collaborate with universities to develop licensing policies that promote access to medicines in developing nations. Considering that universities develop one-third of all new medicines annually, this approach is justified. A clear example of a policy that would increase access to medicines is the use of non-exclusive rather than exclusive licensing in agreements with pharmaceutical companies. Exclusive licensing would give a single pharmaceutical company rights over the manufacturing, distribution, and importantly the price of the drug. On the other hand, non-exclusive licensing would allow multiple companies to produce and sell the drug, introducing generic competition and driving the price down.
Real-life examples of how these policies help address this global health crisis are abundant. In 2007, the University of British Columbia (UBC) licensed their first medical innovation under a global access licensing policy. The drug was a low-cost oral formulation of Amphotericin B, a novel agent with improved ease of administration and reduced toxicity, which could potentially treat 12 million individuals (nearly all of whom were in developing nations). It was only because these socially responsible licensing policies had been put in place that UBC was able to reach an agreement with iCo Therapeutics to ensure that the drug would be sold at-cost (with no profit gain) in developing nations. Considering that 0.8% of revenues generated yearly by US pharmaceutical companies come from Africa, India, and China, I believe that the marginal decrease in profits would be well worth saving the lives of millions in the developing world.
Regarding Western, our UAEM student group is leading a campaign to advocate for our university to form its own global access licensing policy using measures outlined in existing frameworks, such as the Statement of Principles and Strategies for the Equitable Dissemination of Medical Technologies (SPS) and the Global Access Licensing Framework (GALF). Through formal communication and collaboration with university administration and relevant policy makers, it is our hope that Western recognizes the importance of these policies and takes steps to adopt them, so that if any medicines are discovered by Western researchers in the future, we’ll be able to say that we certainly can do something for these people.
Written by: Michael Lee
Michael is currently in his third year of undergraduate studies at Western University and serves as UAEM Western's VP Access.