University of Bristol Acts to Make Medicine More Affordable Globally
Students applaud the new agreement at Bristol which could improve global access to medicine
BRISTOL - The University of Bristol has passed an “equitable access policy” relating to all future licensing agreements concerning medical research output. This policy is intended to make any medicines building on university research results available at lower prices for patients in developing nations. If widely adopted, this approach would help to give millions of people worldwide, swift and affordable access to life-saving medication without waiting decades for patents on such medication to expire before prices drop.
Under the new policy the university “is committed to enabling and maximising benefits to society, government and industry, including in the developing world”. These new guidelines encourage companies using university research to reduce the cost of medications for developing countries through various strategies which may include generic or at-cost pricing in poorer nations. Such approaches have reduced the cost of new medications for low-income patients by as much as 96% where adopted .
Calum Smith from Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) Bristol said “It's fantastic to be part of a university making a commitment to ensure that the medicines they help develop are made available to the widest possible group of people regardless of their ability to pay. This new policy will help to change the current situation where so many people die needlessly from curable and preventable diseases just because they can't afford to buy medicines that already exist.” According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, lack of access to essential medicine is responsible for 18 million preventable deaths each year . The vast majority of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries where essential medications are often unaffordable.
The policy continues, the university should “promote access to essential medicines in less developed countries where practical”, achieved by “[pursuing] potential pharmaceutically active ingredient patent applications in less developed countries only as necessary…” and by including, where possible, “provisions in its stand-alone commercial licenses that seek to increase the availability of medicines at affordable prices in less developed countries.” Whilst promoting significant gains in global development, pharmaceutical companies that employ different approaches as encouraged by this policy would continue to profit from newly developed medical technologies as only a small fraction of their profits currently derive from low and middle-income nations.
MedAccess Bristol, as part of the international student organisation UAEM, has been campaigning to implement an access agreement at the University of Bristol since 2009. Alan Abraham, MedAccess UAEM Bristol Co-ordinator said “As one of the UK’s largest research centres, Bristol is showing an exemplary commitment to humanitarian causes by passing this new policy. The policy also shows the potential for student-led campaigns to make real differences at universities across the UK.”
UAEM students have cooperated with university faculty to enact similar policies at Edinburgh, Oxford and Dundee University and over 30 other institutions globally. Fiona Rae, University of Bristol Graduate said “It is really wonderful that Bristol University has chosen to join other leading UK universities in taking steps to ensure that its research reaches those who need it most in the developing world. We know from experience that taking simple measures to change licensing practices can earn significant gains in terms of global development - without negative repercussions for universities.”
 Kapczynski A, Crone ET, Merson M (2003) Global health and university patents. Science 301: 1629.
 World Health Organization, The World Health Report 2004 Annex table 2