This post was written by Daniel Hougendobler (Georgetown Global Health LL.M. ’13). Any questions about this post can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Universities play a vital and unique role in the development and equitable dissemination of biomedical innovations. The recently-released Global Health Impact Report Card, created by Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), represents the first attempt to measure the impact of individual institutions on biomedical research, development and dissemination. While the Report Card has received considerable press attention (see, e.g., articles in Lancet, New York Times, and Times of India), these articles tend not to provide a comprehensive overview of the project. This post attempts to fill this gap by briefly exploring the Report Card’s goals and methodology.
Between one-fourth and one-third of all new medicines begin in university labs. Universities generally have a public-interest mandate and receive large amounts of public funding, making them particularly responsible for ensuring that their research is used for the common good.
However, universities’ individual contributions to global biomedical research and development are not well-understood. In response to this knowledge gap, UAEM, a global association of students from chapters across six continents, developed the Global Health Impact Report Card.
Global Health Impact Report Card
Using a combination of self-reported and publicly-accessible data, the Report Card team gathered extensive data across three categories: (1) innovation, (2) access and (3) empowerment. Based on the results from these three categories, the Report Card assigns each school a letter grade.
It is undisputed that biomedical research and development expenditures do not mirror global health priorities. Diseases and conditions that affect primarily those in developing countries often receive little or no funding while those affecting patients in the rich world receive a disproportionately large share. In one study covering 29 years of drug development, just 21 out of 1,556 drugs (1.3%) were developed were for neglected diseases – despite the fact that one out of every six people globally suffers from at least one such disease.
The Report Card measures universities’ attempts to close this gap by examining (1) the percentage of research funding devoted to neglected disease research, (2) the percentage of funding devoted to research capacity-building for neglected diseases and (3) whether the university has a dedicated research center or institute for neglected disease research.
New biomedical technologies and products are useful only to those patients who are able to obtain them at an affordable price. Excessive claims of intellectual property rights, particularly patent protections, risk undermining access to biomedical innovations. The Report Card therefore looks carefully at university licensing practices as well as other efforts universities take to ensure equitable dissemination of their research.
The metrics used include: (1) a measure of whether the university has publicly committed to access and affordability in developing countries, (2) the transparency of the university’s licensing policies, (3) what percentage of the licenses offered were non-exclusive (thus encouraging generics competition), (4) what percentage of all patents were also sought in developing countries, (5) whether the licenses contain provisions to promote access in developing countries and (6) whether the university shared best practices for promoting access to health technologies.
Finally, universities play a vital role in empowering students and researchers to pursue initiatives that improve global health. The report card examined whether institutions (1) had dedicated global health programs, (2) offered international health grants, (3) integrated global access to innovations and neglected diseases into its curriculum and (4) hosted conferences and events on global health access and innovation.
Schools generally received low grades. Only four of fifty-four schools received a grade of B or higher, with the University of British Columbia taking the highest grade (A-) and Case Western Reserve coming in second (B+), followed by Johns Hopkins (B) and University of California – Irvine (B).
For those schools wishing to improve their grades in the next reporting cycle, the Report Card provides a roadmap. By holding institutions accountable and offering suggestions for improvement, the Report Card team hopes to steadily improve university scores, resulting not only in improvements to the schools’ reputations, but also in better health outcomes around the world.
The views reflected in this expert column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.