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Tech Transfer

Universities adopt principles to ease developing world's access to discoveries

by Ann M. Thayer
November 16, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 46

Six major research institutions—Harvard University, Yale University, Brown University, Boston University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Oregon Health & Science University—and the Association of University Technology Managers have crafted new principles to promote the transfer of medical technologies to the developing world. Within two days of being posted on the AUTM website, the statement was endorsed by NIH and two University of Illinois campuses.

The principles encourage universities to make “vigorous efforts to develop creative and effective licensing strategies” to promote global access. The institutions do acknowledge that their efforts might be constrained by the “modest leverage” their technology transfer professionals can exert when licensing early-stage academic work.

Suggested approaches include negotiating licenses that call for lower prices or the production of generic medicines. Universities, the principles say, can offer financial incentives, such as reduced royalties, and exert control over patent rights or not patent at all in certain countries. They are also encouraged to partner with others in developing health-related technologies.

Harvard and Yale, in particular, have been under pressure to commit to such principles by the Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, a student-led group. Last spring, the two schools hosted a meeting of technology officers from about a dozen major research universities and organizations as a prelude to drafting the new statement.

The student group welcomes the new principles, although it still sees shortcomings. Meanwhile, Harvard Provost Steven E. Hyman argues that “over time, these principles and strategies, which now are viewed as ahead-of-the-curve, will come to be the norm and will be broadly implemented.”


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