Yale to revise licensing for medicines in poor countries

Yale joined five other universities Monday in calling for the expanded distribution of medicines in poor countries.

The University will add financial and legal incentives to its research licenses and patents to encourage drug companies to provide cheaper access to medicine in developing countries, administrators said. But the University’s ability to pressure companies, they added, is limited because it often only holds one of several patents on a drug.

“This is something we’ve been working on for a number of years,” University President Richard Levin said. “To the extent possible, the University will make provisions to let drugs be sold cheaply or let other manufacturers come in and produce them at lower cost for [developing] populations.”

The statement was signed by Brown University, Boston University, Harvard, Oregon Health & Science University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Association of University Technology Managers, a non-profit organization that promotes technological cooperation between universities and private companies. The statement will provide a road map for how the organizations will act on a 2007 agreement endorsed by 70 universities and organizations, Deputy Provost for Health Affairs Stephanie Spangler said. The organizations involved will update the statement every two years to reflect new developments, Spangler said.

Like many research institutions, Yale licenses patents and copyrights for discoveries resulting from its research to companies for a certain period of time. Because companies have to pay royalties for intellectual property, they raise the price of a drug. While generic drugs cost less than name-brand equivalents, they are only available years after the patents expire, years after the drug initially comes to market, Jon Soderstrom, managing director of the Yale Office of Cooperative Research, said.

According to the statement, the University will reduce royalty rates and ask for subsidized pricing on drugs for diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries, such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Few companies currently sell drugs at discounted prices to developing drugs, Soderstrom said. While the new policy should encourage more companies to sell drugs at low prices without losing money, Soderstrom said once intellectual property is licensed to companies, Yale has little control over how companies use its research.

“We recognize that we control part of the puzzle, not all of it,” Soderstrom said. “We try to get our partners to do the right thing, and see it as doing the right thing, even though it may not be in their best financial interest.”

The student organization Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, which has long advocated for cheaper medicines for developing countries, were excited by Monday’s developments.

“We are proud of this document because it’s the strongest policy out there,” Lisa Ouellette LAW ’11, the director of the Yale chapter of the Universities Allied for Essential Medicine, said. Ouellette said her group met with Soderstrom and Spangler since January to help shape Yale’s specific policy.

The University started calling for drug companies to expand medical access in 2001, when Doctors Without Borders warned the University that its licensing agreement with Bristol-Myers Squibb made AIDS medications too expensive for many people in South Africa, Levin said. Eventually, Bristol-Myers Squibb made their drugs ZERIT and VIDEX available for a dollar per day by letting other manufacturers produce the drugs without paying the company a licensing fee.

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