In 2001, a group of students began a campaign that ultimately led Yale and Bristol-Myers Squibb to pledge not to enforce their South African patents on d4T–a crucial drug in HIV treatment, which was developed through taxpayer-funded research at Yale and sold commercially under the brand name Zerit. Because sub-Saharan African states represent a tiny portion of pharmaceutical profits (constituting about 1% of the global market), the deal has no bearing on R&D, but had tremendous implications for South Africans infected with HIV.
As a result of the deal, a new generic version of the drug is now being produced that is up to 40% cheaper than the costs of the patented drug, while maintaining the same safety profile.
Dozens of other essential medicines that have been developed in part at universities could be sold effectively at cheaper prices without impacting negatively on R&D, but where they are patented and exclusively licensed, prices can be set uncompetitively. There are two basic ways to solve this problem: allow competition (not patenting or non-exclusive licensing), or enforcing fair pricing requirements (for example, requiring a company to sell the product at 5% above production cost).
The new anti-HIV drug Fuzeon was developed through taxpayer funding to laboratories at Duke, and the AIDS drugs Ziagen and Lamivudinewere produced through research conducted at the University of Minnesota and Emory University, respectively. Students and professors at those schools and at others are now working to change their universities’ policies and improve vital access to medicines.
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