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After four years, student representatives of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines have succeeded in persuading the University of California to provide its research developed medicine to low-income patients worldwide for as much as 90% less than its current costs.

Although students from across the UC system and other universities share the victory, UC San Diego students like Taylor Gilliland continue to play a major role, not just in the efforts, but also in research development. Gilliland, who is working on his Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences, also heads the UAEM’s UCSD chapter and serves on the national UAEM Coordinating Committee; he says the new University Licensing Guidelines are an important breakthrough and explains their significance as well as the contributions of UCSD students

“These new guidelines are for prospective biomedical innovations that haven't been licensed yet to a biotech or pharmaceutical company, gone through clinical trials, or have been approved by the FDA,” Gilliland said. “However, these guidelines apply not only to infectious diseases that are primarily found in the developing world, but also to chronic and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. The potential unleashed by the guidelines is huge and not limited to particular geographic regions.”

The World Health Organization estimates that 10 million people die annually simply because they cannot afford or access existing medicines. Simultaneously, a 2010 analysis revealed that the source of at least one in four medical products is academic research. However, universities grant exclusive licensing deals to commercial developers, enabling them to charge any price for the resulting product, even in the world’s poorest countries.

For the guidelines to influence global health students like Gilliland must now push for proper implementation and lobby for transparency when UC licenses its medical research to companies that use it to develop drugs, devices and diagnostics.

Gilliland explains that UC develops more medicinal patents and contributes to the development of more FDA approved drugs than any other academic institution in the country. From 2002 through 2006, they were awarded the most biotechnology patents, including those issued to the Federal government.

“UC is the world’s largest patent seeker, followed by MIT and the University of Texas. We currently have 3,802 active patents,” Gilliland said. “In terms of funding, UCSD accounted for nearly a quarter of the $1.8 billion the UC system received from the National Institutes of Health for its fiscal 2011 budget.”

UAEM members and UC students are hopeful that these new guidelines will demonstrate the universities’ commitment to public benefit, and pave the way for other universities to follow. Currently, Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and at least 30 other institutions have adopted and implemented similar methods of licensing their medical research to promote affordable global access to health.

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