Rethinking drug development: A new commitment to global access

UBC recently became the first Canadian university to join Yale, Harvard, the US National Institutes of Health and other major institutions as a signatory to the Statement of Principles and Strategies for the Equitable Dissemination of Medical Technologies. To date, 14 institutions have pleged to provide developing countries with better access to drugs and therapies that originated from university discoveries.

Angus Livingstone, managing director of UBC’s Industry Liaison Office, helped craft the principles with colleagues from US universities and the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), offering UBC’s experience with its own Global Access initiative, launched in 2007.

“The American institutions were responding to calls from the student-driven organization, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), to leverage their intellectual property to address neglected diseases in disadvantaged regions – much like we did when we first put together our Global Access principles,” says Livingstone.

While the AUTM-endorsed principles focus on drugs and medical technologies, UBC’s initiative – the first in a Canadian university – was designed to also envelop discoveries that could address some of today’s biggest challenges.

“Biotechnology was the most apparent use, but in developing our Global Assess principles we sought to apply them in the broadest sense possible, as UBC research has a stellar track record of addressing real-world problems, including those experienced by both developing and developed nations – food security, sustainability and the environment,” says Livingstone.

“We applaud UBC for endorsing the AUTM Statement of Principles and for its continued efforts to make technologies based on university research affordable to people living in low- and middle-income countries,” says Mike Gretes, a first-year medical student and chair of the UBC Chapter of UAEM.

While the AUTM principles include ambitious elements, such as ensuring the production of generic versions of patented drugs for the poor, and developing metrics to gauge the success of access licensing programs, says Gretes, UBC could play a leadership role in further advocating for wider consultation of the principles among university communities, expansion of the principles to include all medical technologies and inclusion of more than a billion of the world’s poor living in middle income countries such as India, China and Brazil.

“It is gratifying that UBC’s leadership in both technology transfer and global access principles are recognized by other institutions and agencies such as the Gates Foundation-funded Consortium for Parasitic Drug Development,” says Livingstone.

“This is especially poignant in today’s dire economic times,” he adds. “But in encouraging our industry partners to rethink their practices and the potential positive impact this approach may have, we’re bringing the essence of innovation and discovery one step further as global citizens.”