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Federal Agencies and Research Universities Pledge to Speed Medical Advances to Developing Nations

Earlier this week, six research universities announced a set of shared principles for increasing access to new medicines in poor countries. Boston University, Brown, Harvard, the Oregon Health and Science University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale joined the Association of University Technology Managers Monday in releasing the statement, which aims to guide licensing decisions for medical technology patents developed by academics at the institutions.

In a press release, AUTM recognized that the institutions “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 statement of principles commits the signatories to “make vigorous efforts to develop creative and effective licensing strategies that help to promote global access to health-related technologies,” affirming that “intellectual property should not become a barrier to essential health-related technologies needed by patients in developing countries.” It goes on to say that the institutions should negotiate agreements that promote access through, for instance, non-exclusive licensing or tiered pricing. It also outlines a commitment to investing in research and development on diseases that affect poor countries.

The document also contains a commitment to developing metrics on the impact of the policies and to revisiting the statement biennially.

Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, a student group backed by the Ford Foundation, has been pressuring the schools to change their technology transfer rules since 2001. In its press release, the group heralded the victory, but said it “sees this document as a floor for future policies rather than a ceiling and we hope that other universities will go further still.”

Since Monday, the National Institutes of Health, the University of Illinois Chicago, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also endorsed the principles.

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