As the battle rages on between groups demanding lower prices for AIDS drugs in developing countries and pharmaceutical companies looking to protect their intellectual property rights, students have begun preparing for future events involving Yale and its own AIDS drug d4T.

Plans are already in the works for a campus-wide open forum where students and administrators can meet to discuss Yale’s patent and licensing policy, as well as the University’s specific policy towards d4T. In addition, Law School and Medical School students are considering organizing a national conference inviting representatives from all sides of the AIDS-drug licensing debate.

On March 14, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., the pharmaceutical company that markets and produces the Yale-patented d4T, announced that it will not enforce the patent for the drug if other companies begin to produce inexpensive generic copies of d4T in South Africa.

Yale holds the drug’s patent, but because of its licensing agreement with Bristol-Myers Squibb, the University could face a lawsuit if it unilaterally allowed another company to produce generic versions of d4T. The March 14 decision, hailed as a watershed by many AIDS activists, was the first time a pharmaceutical company has said that it will permit other companies to produce generic versions of an AIDS drug.

“Our main priority right now around d4T is to make sure the entire Yale community is aware of the urgency of the situation, and that Bristol-Myers and Yale are doing everything they need to do,” said Amy Kapczynski LAW ’03, who has been working with other Yale Law School and Medical School students to organize a teach-in, slated for tonight in Linsly-Chittenden Hall, on d4T, Yale’s patenting policy, and AIDS in South Africa.

And students are not the only ones becoming involved.

“This has become a concern on many people’s minds, and Yale can play a constructive and instructive role in that national conversation,” said Law School Dean Anthony Kronman, who met with law students Friday to discuss ways in which the Law School can contribute to the international debate. Kronman also cautioned that any actions regarding AIDS drug access should be made only after careful thought and deliberation.

Though the format of the proposed conference is undecided, Kapczynski said it will likely focus on the access to AIDS medication in developing countries.

“It’s very preliminary,” Kapczynski said. “But we know so far that there seems to be support here and at the med school to discuss the legal issues and equity issues around AIDS on a broader scale.”

The recent activity has also inspired students to form a new group on campus to address AIDS issues; their first meeting is slated for April 11.

“We’re in the process of creating a cross-campus, University-wide coalition trying to bring together concerned and active students and faculty,” said Tyler Crone LAW ’03. “[It will include] those working on HIV and AIDS, from nurses working directly with AIDS to public health students looking to address the issue from a policy perspective to law students interested in patent issues.”

Yale already has two large programs involved with AIDS: the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, which is concerned with AIDS policy issues, and the Medical School’s AIDS program, which focuses on clinical and medical AIDS research. But Crone said the new coalition will bring a new activism element to the AIDS discussion on campus. Crone also hopes that the new group will attract undergraduates.

“I don’t think there has been enough effort to link professional students and graduate students with undergraduates here at Yale,” she said.

At the teach-in, students will discuss creating a number of working groups, including one on Yale’s patenting and licensing policy, one specifically on d4T and another on networking with other universities. Yale students have already contacted the Harvard-based Harvard AIDS coalition, a group currently pressuring the American government to commit more financial resources to buying AIDS drugs for poor countries and building AIDS treatment infrastructure in AIDS-ravaged countries.

Students have also been in touch with the University of Minnesota, which holds the patent for the AIDS drug Ziagen. University of Minnesota students are now pressuring their administration to work with its licensing partner, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline plc, to make Ziagen more affordable in poor countries.