United States International

Idea #5: Cheap Meds for the World’s Poor

Idea #5: Cheap Meds for the World's Poor
by: Rob Annandale

Emma Preston has been on a bit of a tear of late. In late November, the fourth-year microbiology student from UBC found out she would soon be heading to Oxford as the province's latest Rhodes Scholar.

A few days later, UBC announced it was the first school in Canada to commit to providing people in poor countries with easier access to its innovations. The press release singled out Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) -- a student group whose local chapter Preston co-founded -- as "catalysts" for the decision.

"There's so much research that goes on at universities that has huge potential to make a difference in the developing world but because of patent regulations, it was inaccessible," said Preston whose organization focuses on access to drugs.

The idea actually came from members of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) frustrated with the prohibitive cost of HIV treatment in South Africa. They approached Yale -- the place where the antiretroviral stavudine was developed -- to ask if the university would consider signing an agreement allowing the use of generic drugs. Yale initially refused, saying it had licensed the compound to pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb and its hands were tied.

Students pressured both the university and the drug company, which eventually agreed to cut the price by 96 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa. UAEM was born.

But as it turned out, the victory was a one-off and business continued as usual at Yale. The University of California at Berkeley has committed to socially responsible licensing but it is the exception rather than the rule.

Read the entire article here: http://thetyee.ca/News/2007/12/21/CheapMeds/

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