Following Yale’s decision last week not to apply for a patent in low- and middle-income countries for chemical which may be used in anti-HIV drugs, students are calling on the University to pressure its business partner to refrain from enforcing its own license on the compound in those countries.
Students involved in the group Universities Allied for Essential Medicines want Oncolys BioPharma, a Tokyo pharmaceutical company, not to enforce its current license so that generic pharmaceutical companies would be able to cheaply produce and distribute drugs based on the chemical, called Ed4T, in disadvantaged regions. In response, faculty members warned that exerting pressure on the company, which owns the license for international clinical and business development of Ed4t, could encourage the company not to develop and produce the drug at all.
UAEM member Shayna Strom ’02 LAW ’09 said Yale should take the initiative in enabling drugs based on university research to be produced more cheaply for use in low-income countries
“We’re glad that the University has made the decision not to patent in low-income countries, although we think there are further steps to be taken,” Strom said. “The University had more leverage before it licensed the drug, but President Levin still has a great opportunity to set the tone and set the agenda.”
Strom said the move would give Yale credibility as a leader in promoting drug accessibility, similar to the way Harvard recently received credit for being a leader in early action reform.
“Yale has a brief opportunity here to decide whether to lead or to follow,” Strom said.
Yale School of Medicine pharmacology professor Yung-Chi Cheng — who led the Yale team that discovered the chemical and collaborated on the research with two teams of scientists in Japan — said the technicalities of the licensing agreement are not entirely up to Yale because the research and the chemical itself are not purely Yale property. Cheng said Ed4T looks promising as an active ingredient in antiviral drugs that could help to treat diseases like HIV and hepatitis, but that too much intervention in the licensing agreement would likely restrict deveopment of a successful drug.
“[The company needs] to have a return on that investment if they’re going to bear all the risk, and that return comes from enforcing their license,” Cheng said. “Too much restriction from Yale’s side on the commercial company will only hurt the possibility to have a company develop this drug, and that will eventually hurt HIV patients.”
If the drug sells well, the University will receive financial returns on the product as compensation for its research efforts in discovering the chemical. But School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said the benefits of discovering Ed4T will only be realized if Yale allows the pharmaceutical company to exercise its international rights over the chemical.
“We try to work with pharmaceutical companies to give the drug away in poorer countries,” Alpern said. “In general, with these drugs the pharmaceutical industry is very good. I don’t think the solution is to tamper with the licensing.”
In 2001, Yale made the unusual decision to cut the cost of Zerit — one of the main components of an AIDS cocktail that was discovered at Yale — in South Africa as a response to pressure from the Yale chapter of UAEM.
Cheng said his main interest is in helping those who are afflicted with HIV.
“My bottom line is to see whether this can be helpful for patients,” Cheng said. “The chemical looks promising, but whether it makes it into a drug we have yet to see.”