Ms. Merith Basey is the Executive Director of Universities Allied For Essential Medicines (UAEM) North America, a global network of university students who believe that their universities have an opportunity and a responsibility to improve access to publicly funded medicine developed on their campuses.
Prostatepedia spoke to her about UAEM’s Xtandi (enzalutamide) campaign and how prostate cancer patients can help.
Can you tell us about UAEM’s Xtandi (enzalutamide) campaign?
Ms. Basey: We launched this campaign at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) to urge the university to drop its pursuit of a patent claim in India for the drug Xtandi, which people may know by its generic name, enzalutamide. The drug was developed at UCLA with the support of public grants or funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense (DoD). Xtandi (enzalutamide) is currently sold in the United States at an eye-watering $130,000 per patient per year and around $30,000 in Canada while at the same time we know it is estimated to cost just a few dollars to produce. Obviously, these prices are out of reach for most.
In India, prostate cancer is among the top ten most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer. And yet UCLA filed a patent claim with the High Court of Delhi on behalf of two massive pharmaceutical giants, Pfizer and Astellas that acquired the rights for the medicine from the university. Our concern is that, if this patent is granted, it will further obstruct the introduction of a more affordable, lower priced generic drug onto the Indian market and it will set a very dangerous precedent for the role of universities in determining patient access. We know the potentially devastating impact that this could have for people living with cancer in India and other countries that import their generics from India as well. In our view, the impact of this case goes far beyond this one drug, one community, one country. This is about standing up for health equity and justice and putting people’s lives over profits.
To give you some further background to this story, while UCLA still currently holds three patents on Xtandi. they initially licensed the drug to Medivation, a biotech based in San Francisco. In 2016, Medivation was acquired by Pfizer and they ended up in an agreement with Astellas, a large Japanese pharmaceutical corporation. In the same year, UCLA then sold its royalty interests on the patents for the drug to Royalty Pharma for a massive $1.14 billion dollars. The Xtandi site application in India was initially rejected by the Indian Patent Office on the grounds that it wasn’t patentable. This was when UCLA filed the patent appeal suit with the High Court of Delhi. At UAEM, we believe universities must be part of the solution not part of the problem to the global challenge of high drug prices. They need to live up to their social missions rather than protecting corporate interests. We know the impact it will have on people who need access to this drug as well as others in many countries around the world.
In response, we’ve been organizing students, and they have been leading a campaign at their university to urge the UC President, Janet Napolitano, to drop the patent claim. Students have spoken up at multiple Board of Regents meetings in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. They’ve met with some of the deans, and collected over 3,500 signatures that were delivered to Janet Napolitano. At the most recent campus rally the university even appeared to silence the student voices reducing the opportunities to speak and even putting up barriers outside the building. Disappointingly,
The UC offices have acknowledged that they know the campaign is happening but the overall silence from Janet Napolitano and the Regents has been deafening. The university is publicly funded, and the drug was developed with public research dollars, they should not be fighting a court battle on behalf of private pharmaceutical corporations. This is not the role of the university. We believe that they’re on the forefront to provide access to medication for people regardless of income which is not what they’re doing.
How can someone reading this participate? What can we do?
Ms. Basey: There are several ways to help.
1) If you can, any financial donation to UAEM makes a difference. We’re grassroots, a small and lean organization so any donation goes a long way for our campaigning . Learn more here.
2) We’d love to hear from you at: firstname.lastname@example.org You can follow us on most social media!
3) Email President Janet Napolitano–she is the woman with the power within the University of California system to drop the claim–at email@example.com. Tell her why this drug is so important and why the UC should drop the patent claim and make efforts to ensure publicly funded drugs developed on university campuses should be made affordable and accessible to the public who paid for the research in the first place.
4) We’d also like to hear from people who are affected by prostate cancer who might be interested in writing or being part of the campaign. We’d particularly like to hear from people in California as we’re scaling up our efforts there as well as in India.. Your voices matter. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We want to make sure that winning this fight sends a message not only to universities about the importance of living up to their social missions but also to pharmaceutical corporations. They’re making billions of dollars off this drug at the expense of patient lives, and we can urge them to do better.
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