Rotenberg discusses U’s role in Ziagen patent controversy

Liz Kohman

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg spoke at a public seminar Tuesday highlighting the University’s involvement with the Ziagen AIDS drug license.

Approximately 30 people attended the seminar, “The Ziagen AIDS Drug License: University Commitments and Constraints.”

Rotenberg discussed the history of the Ziagen drug license and the University’s duties in following its agreements with GlaxoSmithKline and complying with federal law.

Ziagen has been the center of controversy concerning the high cost of AIDS drugs in Africa.

Ziagen, a drug developed by University professor Robert Vince, has brought $20 million in royalties to the University in the last two years.

Ziagen royalties are used to support the College of Pharmacy, the department of medicinal chemistry and other research programs.

In April, several activist groups wrote letters to the University expressing concern about the high cost of Ziagen and encouraging the University to work with Glaxo – the drug’s producer – in lowering costs.

Shortly after, Glaxo and other drug companies dropped a lawsuit against the South African government concerning patent rights and agreed to provide Ziagen at a reduced price to South Africa and other less developed countries.

Rotenberg maintained the University has supported a price reduction for Ziagen.

The University has obligations to Glaxo to actively promote the intellectual property value of the Ziagen patent, Rotenberg said.

Christine Maziar, University vice president for research, said the University is exploring options for using its resources to fund scholarships and other research programs to benefit South Africa.

Kirk Allison, associate director of the Program in Human Rights and Medicine, said the patent ownership problems surrounding Ziagen are representative of a larger biotechnology industry trend. Many people own different parts of a product, and all of those people want part of the pie, he said.

The Program in Human Rights and Medicine in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health sponsored the seminar.