Medicine and developing countries: balancing drugs and dollars


Panelists (left to right)

On March 17th, the Journal of Law and Technology held its annual symposium, and this year the title and focus of the event was “Delivering Medicines to Developing Countries.” The symposium was co-sponsored by Harvard Universities Allied for Essential Medicine (UAEM), a student group interested in increasing global access to medical technologies invented in Harvard laboratories. A series of panels featuring professors, pharmaceutical industry representatives, and non-governmental organizations discussed some of the legal, political, and technical barriers that make it difficult to provide essential medicines to the developing world.

Throughout the day, panelists explored various economic and regulatory strategies for increasing innovation and access in developing countries. James Love, Director of Knowledge Ecology International, advocated for replacing the current patent-based incentive system with a system of government-funded prizes. Ashley Stevens, Executive Director of Technology Transfer at Boston University pointed out that “patent systems are incredibly slow to change, shifts in licensing practices are something that can be addressed today.” Stevens advocates for Universities to take a more active role in working with industry to promote better access to technology in developing countries.

Representatives from industry offered examples of how private efforts can be used to promote access to medicines. Una Ryan, former CEO of Avant Immunotherapeutic, the company that produced the Rotavirus vaccine, for the prevention of childhood diarrhea, suggested that companies should be willing to waive profits in low-income countries in recognition of the need for access. “We have to ask ourselves, what is a profit, and what is an outrageous profit?” said Ryan.