By Joanna Chataway, Innogen Co-Director
I don’t know how significant this is but on the face of it the University of Edinburgh should feel proud of itself this week. The University, under pressure from students, has said it will not license its science and technology to pharmaceutical companies that won’t sell their drugs at cost price to developing countries. Edinburgh is the first university to implement such a scheme. A longer article appears in the Observer (26 April 09).
The potential significance of this scheme is that other universities and public sector bodies might follow. With more and more patents owned by the public sector this might have quite an impact on availability of drugs in poor countries. I guess one could argue that this might be gesture politics but it will amount to more than that and anyway that in itself does not make this unimportant. Real change in making affordable drugs available to poor people in developing countries may depend on multiple factors (see Innogen’s OECD report on Health Biotechnology to 2030 for an idea of some the issues) but schemes like the one just announced by the University of Edinburgh are vital in signalling that the current situation whereby people die in their millions of totally preventable diseases must end.