MIT UAEM is the MIT chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, an international organization of university students. We believe that:
- Access to life-saving medicines should be made available to as many people as possible regardless of income
- Such broadened access in developing nations would not affect profits in developed nations and would not eliminate incentives for drug development
- Universities and students can play a critical role in broadening access
- Increased awareness and research in neglected tropical diseases is needed for the billion people who suffer from these conditions
Drug Patenting and Licensing
In 2001, researchers at Yale University discovered that the antiviral drug stavudine (D4T) is effective against HIV. However, an exclusive licensing agreement and prohibitive prices meant that the drug was not available to residents of poor countries, many of whom make less than $2 a day. Public pressure from students and researchers, along with the organization Doctors Without Borders led to South Africa’s leading generic manufacturer being allowed to produce generic stavudine, which reduced the price 30-fold.
Since these poor countries account for a very small fraction of pharmaceutical profits, we believe that generic production in those countries can co-exist with profitable sales in developed nations. Generic production is an effective way to prevent millions of people from unnecessary suffering and death from conditions for which treatment is possible. Universities should ensure that their licensing agreements do not close off generic production in poor countries.
Many major institutions, including Harvard, Brown, Yale, B.U., and Massachusetts General Hospital, have already signed on to a set of guidelines for promoting and evaluating dissemination of technologies for global health referred to as the Statement of Principles and Strategies for the Equitable Dissemination of Medical Technologies. MIT is currently not a signatory and has not articulated a strategy for ensuring dissemination of medical technology. At signatory institutions, we have not observed any negative impact on the institutions’ ability to fund and conduct research.
Research in Neglected Diseases
Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) collectively account for a huge disease burden and debilitate a billion people around the world, but receive relatively little funding or publicity. MIT UAEM works to raise awareness of neglected diseases in the MIT community, specifically to encourage research into new treatments for these diseases as well as to consider the applicability of existing medications to neglected disease, and more generally to discuss how MIT’s research can have the greatest social impact.