Do Hopkins medical discoveries reach the developing world?

Worldwide, 10 million people die each year because they cannot access medicines for treatable diseases. While Johns Hopkins University is a world-renowned research institution and a leading force in promoting global health, students remain deeply troubled that our university has not committed to making the medicines it helps discover available and affordable to the world's poor.

Last week, in an interview with WYPR's Dan Rodricks, Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels heralded the university's contributions to improving health throughout the developing world. He also vowed that making new drugs available "at low cost to the populations who are most in need" is "core to the mission of Hopkins." We applaud the inspiring and life-saving work of our colleagues and teachers. However, we are dismayed that our university has not joined other leading research institutes, including Harvard University and the National Institutes of Health, in making clear public commitments to promoting affordable global access to new drugs.

The single best way to make new drugs affordable in low income countries is to allow for competition between generic manufacturers. Low-cost generic drugs have allowed millions to receive life-saving AIDS drugs in less developed countries, where these medications now cost less than a dollar a day for each patient.

Rather than adopting strong, proactive policies that encourage generic production of life-saving medicines, Johns Hopkins has let the pharmaceutical industry dictate how the university shares its medical discoveries with the world.

In his interview with Mr. Rodricks, President Daniels argued that adopting new policies on licensing patents could be "too onerous" for pharmaceutical companies, preventing them from partnering with the university to develop new drugs. We acknowledge that pharmaceutical companies are important partners in drug development, but we do not believe the university's commitment to global health should stop where pharmaceutical industry push-back begins. More importantly, access-minded reforms at other pioneering universities have clearly demonstrated that university policies aimed at encouraging generic production of new drugs can be implemented without discouraging industry involvement.

As the leading recipient of federal research funding, our university has an obligation to ensure that public money translates to public good. We would like a serious, sustained and substantive response from Johns Hopkins University administration. We want our university to join other leading universities that have endorsed a consensus statement on global access principles. We want the university to adopt a policy that prioritizes humanitarian access to its medical discoveries, a policy that is transparent and will translate into concrete, visible action at the level of the university's technology transfer office.

We ask that new drugs developed from publicly-funded research be made available and affordable to the world's most vulnerable. Without such a policy, our knowledge is only being shared with the wealthy. We want our university to live up to its ethical obligations, to lead the fight for global access rather than follow, and to become a university that is committed to improving global health on all fronts.

Tyler Brown (tbrow118@jhmi.edu) is a medical student at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Kaci Hickox (khickox@jhsph.edu) is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and School of Public Health. Mike Rogers (michaelrogers@jhu.edu) is a senior anthropology major concentrating in medical anthropology at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Jane Andrews (jandre22@jhmi.edu) is medical student and public health graduate of Johns Hopkins University.

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