College students protest university patents on AIDS drugs

University students have begun protesting their schools’ patent rights on “key” AIDS drugs, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Fuelled by the “sheer scope of the AIDS epidemic in Africa” and the “disparity of treatment between rich and poor, black and white,” students from the University of Minnesota and Yale University are speaking out against their institutions’ AIDS drug patents or stock holdings in companies manufacturing AIDS drugs.

Students at the University of Minnesota, which expects to collect more than $300 million in royalties from its patent on Ziagen (abacavir), a GlaxoSmithKline AIDS drug, are scheduled to hold a “teach-in” today. Despite students’ efforts, “the university doesn’t seem much moved.” GSK spokesperson Nancy Pekarek suggested that “market and political forces have a far greater impact than student protest in determining prices and accessibility.”

But Minnesota students are inspired by the success of Yale students, who on March 9 succeeded in gaining 600 signatures from faculty, researchers and students “demanding” that the university pressure Bristol-Myers Squibb Company to give up patent rights for an AIDS drug in South Africa. Six days later, Bristol-Myers became the first drug manufacturer to relinquish patent rights for an AIDS drug in South Africa, but a company spokesperson said that the Yale students “played no role” in the company’s actions. For their part, Yale students say “they won’t let up until they see evidence that Bristol-Myers actually does what it has said it would do,” and 200 students last week showed up for a teach-in on campus.

The Minnesota students, led by graduate student Amanda Swarr, have been in contact with South African activist Zachie Achmat and “almost every major international nongovernmental organization working on issues of affordable HIV/AIDS treatment”


Zimmerman, Wall Street Journal. April 12, 2001.


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