Massive Overhaul Needed: New UAEM Report Card Reveals Trouble for Universities and their Commitment to Research Practices, Global Health Equity, and COVID-19

 

Universities Aren’t Doing Their Part to Protect Access to Lifesaving Medicines

March 30, 2021—WASHINGTON, D.C.—Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) released their long-awaited 2020 U.S. University Report Card: Global Equity and Biomedical Research. It is a critical study of the top sixty research universities in the States scrutinizing their biomedical research and development (R&D) policies, practices, and performance in domestic and neglected global public health needs in access to medicines, including their COVID-19 response. 

As it stands, universities are significant players in the current biomedical research and development system, wielding their resources and reach to direct research and innovation where they see fit and lucrative. Emphatically, universities’ policies dictate who can or cannot obtain access to life-saving medicines developed with tax-payer dollars, and which global diseases get researched and which are neglected.

“While policymakers attempting to solve the rising cost of prescription medications often focus their efforts on the big pharmaceuticals, they neglect to look at our nation’s universities, a group of large, publicly-funded research institutions that conduct the foundational research of new medicines, and often with taxpayer dollars. The way a university transfers technology to private industry can be critical in determining the affordability and availability of medicines around the world. Yet, despite their general mandates to public service, less than a quarter (22%) of schools identified in this report have made any type of public commitment to adopt licensing strategies that would intentionally promote global access,” said Anmol Gupta, a medical student and a member of UAEM’s North America Coordinating Committee. 

Universities were graded in the following categories: Access, Innovation, Empowerment, and new this year Transparency and COVID-19. As of publishing, of the sixty research universities, only two institutions have received the highest grade, which is a “B-” (Harvard University and Georgetown University). A stark contrast to the majority of failing grades, even with a generous grading curve. Below are some of the key findings from the report: 

  • Fifteen percent of universities devoted no research funding to global health research; most devote 1-5%.
  • Fifteen percent of schools devoted no medical research funding to neglected diseases; most devote 0.51-1.0%.
  • Between 11% and 30% of university biomedical research is published in open-access journals.
  • NO universities reported having policies that require researchers publish all the results of their clinical trials.
  • Half of the universities have made no commitments to equitable COVID-19 biomedical licensing practices.

Some universities, however, do continue to make improving access to medicines and their grade a priority. “Georgetown University is extremely pleased that its efforts in socially-responsible licensing and related policy have been recognized by this significant change in our UAEM “report card” score.  The Office of Technology Commercialization [OTC] has considered access to medicines a priority topic for more than the past decade, beginning with hosting an international Workshop on Socially Responsible Licensing in 2009, to working with students who were concerned about access to vaccines, to being one of the few universities to specifically mention socially-responsible licensing and its ramifications in our IP policy, to being a recent early signatory on both the COVID-19 Technology Access Framework and the AUTM COVID-19 Licensing Guidelines,” said Claudia Stewart, Ph.D., Vice President for Technology Commercialization at Georgetown University.  

Despite ranking in the “Overall Top Ten” and accepting millions of dollars of public funding for COVID-19, the following universities have made ZERO public commitments to equitable COVID-19 biomedical licensing. This means that there will be limited to no protection for the public of access or affordability of COVID-19 innovations developed on these campuses. 

 

  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • 26 COVID-19 research projects and $91,322,135 total public funding
  • University of Washington, Seattle 
    • 3 COVID-19 projects, $21,473,537 total public funding
  • Case Western Reserve University 
    • 4 COVID-19 projects, $3,020,526 total public funding funding

"We are delighted that UAEM has chosen to promote access to vaccines through the mechanism of the Open COVID Pledge, a lightweight and enforceable legal framework for making intellectual property available in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. The ethos of IP sharing that is embodied in the Pledge can help to alleviate the enormous human suffering that continues to emerge from this public health emergency,” said Jorge Contreras, Law Professor at The University of Utah and member of the Open COVID Pledge. 

This document’s release comes on the heels of several recent stories by The Washington Post criticizing actions made by powerful western countries (the U.S. included) in hoarding the life-saving coronavirus vaccine. [They] “received 90 percent of the nearly 400 million vaccines [doses].” Currently, under that model, it would take years, not weeks, to get control of the coronavirus pandemic worldwide. Advocacy groups, including UAEM, have been pushing for a global people’s vaccine that is sustainably priced, available to all, and free at the point of delivery.

“Universities have a moral and ethical responsibility to the public to openly share the intellectual property on the taxpayer-funded COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics we all paid to invent. [Through Operation Warp Speed, $16 billion of American taxpayer money has been spent on the virus.] How many more thousands have to die before American universities decide to act? If not now,  when nearly 555,000 of their fellow citizens have perished, then when? None of us will truly be safe until people all over the world can have access to a COVID-19 vaccine. We are calling on universities to take action now by sharing their IP and know-how via the WHO-recognized mechanisms, including the Open COVID Pledge and C-TAP. There is no time to waste,” said Merith Basey, Executive Director of UAEM North America.

Globalhealthgrades.org, the newly updated report card website, features user-friendly changes reflective of the new grading schema, including the Transparency and COVID-19 data sections, white paper, and thoroughly detailed methodology section. 

This is the third version of the US report card; the last update was published in 2013. 

To learn more, click here for the report card media white sheet. 

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About Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM)

Universities Allied for Essential Medicine (UAEM) is celebrating 20 years of student activism and advocacy in the global and domestic fight for health equity and justice in access to medicines. UAEM is rooted in a global movement of university students in 20 countries and aims to (1) promote access to medicines and medical innovations where barriers exist primarily by changing norms and practices around academic patenting and licensing, supported by our own independent research, (2) ensure that university medical research meets the needs of people worldwide and actively supports the creation of new needs-based approaches to R&D, and (3) empower students to respond to the biomedical access and innovation crisis by advocating for the most promising global biomedical R&D system that works for all. http://www.uaem.org