In 2001, a group of Yale University law students, together with Médecins Sans Frontières, helped convince Yale and the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb to permit generic production of a critical Yale-discovered HIV/AIDS drug in sub-Saharan Africa, triggering dramatic 30-fold price reductions. This was the first such concession on an HIV/AIDS drug; price cuts on other medications soon followed. This enabled a major scale-up of HIV treatment throughout the continent. The campaign showed those students that, as major contributors to drug development, universities are well positioned to influence the way medical technologies are developed and distributed, and thus can do much to help alleviate the access-to-medicines crisis.
Since this initial victory, UAEM has grown into a worldwide student organization with chapters at over 46 research universities, and a membership which includes students of medicine, science, public health, economics, and many other areas. The focus of the organization has expanded from only asking how universities can best license their innovations to promote global access, to also asking how universities can best direct and measure their research to have the greatest social impact worldwide, and promoting these ideals at the national and international levels. We work continuously to raise general awareness of these issues, and conduct independent research about them to empower our fellow students to tackle these challenges.