Speeding new medicines and technologies to the developing world

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Harvard, five other universities adopt new tech transfer principles

A consortium of Harvard and five other leading research universities and the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) have endorsed a far-reaching “Statement of Principles and Strategies for the Equitable Dissemination of Medical Technologies” in the developing world.

Harvard, Yale, Brown, Boston University, the University of Pennsylvania, Oregon Health & Science University and AUTM have taken a major step beyond Nine Points to Consider in Licensing University Technology, a 2007 statement endorsed by about 70 organizations and academic institutions, committing themselves to “implementing technology transfer strategies that promote the availability of health-related technologies in developing countries for essential medical care.”

This effort to hasten the development and dissemination of technologies and medications that will help ease the global health crisis began late last spring with a gathering in Cambridge hosted by Harvard and Yale of technology officers from almost a dozen major research universities and organizations. A day-long gathering, and months of conference calls, resulted in a sharing of practical experiences and provided the framework for the document. The student group Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) made meaningful contributions to the effort.

Harvard Provost Steven E. Hyman said that he is confident “that over time these principles and strategies, which now are viewed as ahead-of-the-curve, will come to be the norm and will be broadly implemented within the field of academic technology transfer. Unquestionably,” he said, “these strategies are entirely in keeping with our shared mission of bringing all of our discoveries to those who will most benefit from them.”

Yale President Richard C. Levin expressed his belief that “theprinciples and strategies enunciated in this document will further our shared goal of providing access to the benefits of our medical inventions for the most needy global citizens.”

And Steven J. Fluharty, Penn’s Vice Provost for Research noted that “academic research institutions have an important obligation to promote the broad dissemination of investigator discoveries for the betterment of all global communities. We are grateful to the diverse array of stakeholders that spent much time and effort to craft a living document which will serve as a guide as we go about moving important biomedical inventions from the academic lab to both developed and developing countries,” he said.

The institutions recognize that they have relatively little influence over companies’ decisions about the pricing and distribution of drugs, vaccines, devices, and other medical technologies in developing countries. However, they are committed to make every effort to ensure that their intellectual property does not become a barrier to access. The consensus statement describes a number of strategies that would facilitate generic production or below-market pricing.

The document commits the universities to, among other things:

  • Make “vigorous efforts to develop creative and effective licensing strategies that help to promote global access to health related technologies;”
  • Ensure that their intellectual property “should not become a barrier to essential
    health-related technologies needed by patients in developing countries;”
  • Exert control over patent rights in such a way as foster the availability of life saving products in the developing world;
  • Support the development of new health-related technologies aimed at diseases that disproportionately burden individuals in the developing world, such as tuberculosis, AIDS, water-borne disease, tropical- and other region-specific ailments and parasitic infections – without regard to the potential for economic gain.

It is envisioned by the initial institutions that many other private and public universities will adopt the principles once they are broadly disseminated. Commenting on the process that led up to today’s announcement, Ashley Stevens, President-Elect of AUTM and Executive Director of Technology Transfer at Boston University, said, “Months of discussion have informed our development of these principles and we felt it was time to finalize a statement that reflects our current practices and philosophy. We invite others to take the time to evaluate how these principles might fit into their own practice and to adopt them as appropriate.”