Response to ‘University pushes research from the labs to the market’

by Ted Fagrelius, Medical School student

This Nov. 24 Minnesota Daily article totally misses the mark on the state of the University of Minnesota’s biomedical research. While patents are one measure of a successful research operation, what about the global health impact of the University’s breakthroughs?

More than 1 billion people worldwide suffer from so-called “neglected diseases” — illnesses rarely researched by the pharmaceutical companies because most of those affected are too poor to provide a market for new drugs. Even worse, millions of people die each year simply because they can’t get life-saving medicines that already exist — often because those treatments are just too expensive because of patents.

Universities play a unique role in drug development because of their primary mission to serve the public good. Therefore, instead of focusing on patents, universities should pay more attention to the public health impact of their innovations rather than the amount of intellectual property they are able to generate.

These two goals can be achieved in tandem, but not always, especially when it comes to ensuring access to medicines. There are other ways to drive innovation that ensure access and promote health, and universities have the opportunity and the responsibility to step up and share their medical breakthroughs.

Under a Global Access License Framework, the University could create open, non-exclusive licenses or licenses that promote lower prices in developing countries.

The Academic Health Center’s mission seems to have a distinct lack of emphasis on global and local. There are immigrants in Minnesota with these neglected diseases, but social justice is lacking, in spite of an explicit focus on the aim to “enhance Minnesota’s bioscience industries.”

The University of Minnesota has a “D” on the University Global Health Impact Report Card, a product of an international student group called Universities Allied for Essential Medicines. The University Global Health Impact Report Card evaluates the top United States and Canadian research universities on their contributions to urgent global health research and access to treatment worldwide.

While the University is definitely a productive research university, I encourage those in our Office for Technology Commercialization to reconsider celebrating such a hollow victory if those that most need our discoveries are unable to access them in an affordable and equitable way.