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Student Club Encourages Socially Responsible University Licensing

February 07, 2017

Nearly half of all people in low and middle income countries don’t have affordable access to medicines that could save their life. This statistic is one of the driving forces behind the work that Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) does around the world. Duke’s UAEM chapter consists of undergraduate and graduate students campaigning for access to medicine and sharing of biomedical research.

UAEM: Fighting for Access for All

UAEM is an international student-led organization committed to promoting innovation, access and empowerment in the biomedical research sector. They work toward progress in these three pillars by campaigning for open-access biomedical research and accessible, affordable licensing of university-created medicines and technologies. Current active campaigns include those supporting access to medicines, opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and encouraging open licensing of biomedical discoveries.

Additionally, UAEM releases an annual report card ranking institutions by how they contribute to urgent global health research and access to treatment worldwide. Universities are ranked in the three pillars of UAEM’s mission: innovation, access and empowerment.

Duke University is ranked ninth in the most current report card, with an overall grade of B+. Duke’s innovation score is an A, but its access and empowerment scores, C and B- respectively, indicate that there’s room for improvement based on UAEM’s metrics. Duke’s chapter of UAEM is working hard this year to improve Duke’s score.

UAEM at Duke

Duke UAEM, currently led by junior John Deng and senior Anthony Hung, started in 2012. Since then, the club has attracted both undergraduate and graduate students and has hosted several educational events. The most notable of these took place in 2014, when Duke’s chapter hosted the Global UAEM Conference. Leaders from chapters from around the globe gathered in Durham, North Carolina, to discuss initiatives to improve innovation, access and empowerment in biomedical research at the university level.

Currently, Duke’s UAEM chapter is focused on growing membership and educating Duke students and faculty on UAEM’s causes. Right now, most of their work centers around education campaigns like the Take Back our Medicines campaign. Duke UAEM uses social media and discussion to support the campaign’s goal of urging the National Institutes of Health “to reform its practices to support access to medicine and public health.”

Additionally, Deng and Hung have met with Duke’s Office of Licensing and Ventures (OLV) to discuss goals for Duke’s licensing process. Robin Rasor, director of the OLV, noted that Duke is a signatory of the Nine Points to Consider, a document that outlines considerations relating to core values for responsible licensing, including provisions granting access to improved therapeutics, diagnostics and agricultural technologies in the developing world. The document was initially developed in 2006 by 11 universities and the Association of American Medical Colleges and is now endorsed by more than 100 universities and institutes worldwide. 

Rasor also highlighted research being done at Duke by public policy student Kushal Kadakia to improve contract language for university licensing in certain unmet needs areas. The study’s goal is to create a toolkit of licensing language agreed upon by universities, companies, and non-profits that will simplify socially responsible licensing.

Support from DGHI’s Center for Policy Impact in Global Health

Gavin Yamey, UAEM’s faculty advisor and director of DGHI’s new Center for Policy Impact in Global Health, voiced support for the work UAEM does on campus. Yamey was a co-author of “Global Health 2035,” a Lancet report that outlined policy strategy to achieve a “grand convergence” in global health by 2035, where infectious, child and maternal mortality rates are universally low. 

“I am a passionate believer in the role of innovation in improving global public health outcomes,” Yamey said. “The way in which we make the fruits of our innovation available to the poor will either accelerate or impede global health outcomes. UAEM was one of the first organizations to come out in support of universal access to biomedical literature, and it’s holding universities responsible to their social mission.”

Currently, Duke UAEM is recruiting members, working on campaigns, and communicating with researchers at Duke to ensure a high survey response rate for the next iteration of the report card, coming in April. 

If you’re a student interested in joining Duke UAEM, fill out this form.

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UAEM is an international student-led organization committed to promoting innovation, access and empowerment in the biomedical research sector. Led by DGHI professor Gavin Yamey, Duke's chapter was founded in 2012.

The way in which we make the fruits of our innovation available to the poor will either accelerate or impede global health outcomes.

Gavin Yamey, UAEM faculty advisor

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