News | Pushing for research that reaches

New licensing for McGill’s health technologies could benefit many

A coalition of globally-minded students are one step closer to amending McGill’s Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)policy to include equitable licensing, allowing for medical discoveries made at McGill to be simultaneously licensed to companies in the developing and developed world.

During Senate last Wednesday, the McGill Global Health Network (MGHN) – an agglomeration of interdisciplinary groups including Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), McGill International Health Initiative, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), McGill Global AIDS Coalition, and McGill Nurses for Global Health – succeeded in placing their question on McGill’s IPR review in the Senate agenda, which was asked by Law senator Faizel Gulamhussein.

As McGill receives considerable public and private funding for its health research, equitable licensing would allow corporate companies that invested at McGill to profit from the University’s research in the developed world, but would permit the University to work with generic companies in the developing world to produce cheaper medicines for at-risk populations, according to a report by UAEM.

“Universities do the vast majority of the early pipeline research that’s then taken up and used by health care industry actors,” explained oline Twiss, Law 3, and a member of the HRWG, who was present in the Senate gallery.

“It’s really important that licences at the early level are developed as open and as broadly as possible as to maximize the dissemination of innovations,” she said.

With a Senate response from Vice Principal of Research and International Relations, Denis Therien, MGHN was given the green light to meet with members of the working group for IPR review – something that UAEM has been trying to secure for over a year when they sent a letter to VP Research that went unanswered. UAEM McGill has modelled their initiative after one began by UAEM Yale to introduce such licensing with the university’s patent and intellectual property arrangements.

“We’re totally open to meet with MGHN,” said Therien at Senate. “They have a very interesting point of view, and we want to see how we can continue the conversation.”

However, Therien explained that the University was also considering the interests of other actors and had informal interaction with faculty members, private companies, and government bodies.

“At least we have this as a concrete step to ensuring that the University has [equitable licensing] in mind,” said Jake Hirsch-Allen, Law 3, and a member of HRWG.

The IPR review will include an overview of policy committees and a committee inside the Office of Technology Transfer, in addition to the Senate Steering Committee of Technology Transfer. Therien thought this process would allow McGill to develop its priorities.

“We’re not entering the review with a fixed agenda,” said Therien, adding that no forum has addressed this question in depth in the three years he has been in his position at McGill. “It will be part of the review to establish these priorities, [but] they will certainly be different than they were ten years ago, because the world has changed.”

The McGill Board of Governors (BOG) and Senate jointly review McGill policies, and this year’s focus has been on IPR. The review bodies had a false start early last fall when their attempts to strike a working group failed. The joint Senate-BOG committee held its only meeting in October. Currently, the composition of the new working group is being established and is expected to meet shortly, although no date has been fixed.