Letter to Cambridge Enterprise on Accessible and Affordable Medical Technology

Dear Professor Toope and Cambridge Enterprise, 

 

I am writing on behalf of Cambridge SU regarding ongoing discussions between Cambridge Enterprise and Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, on the subject of ensuring the accessibility and affordability of vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices developed at the University.

 

Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen a huge quantity of groundbreaking research produced in the University, including the development of rapid diagnostic tests, trial treatment and the COVID-19 Sounds App. These innovations have already resulted in significant benefits to those who have had access to them, and can improve outcomes for those infected. 

 

However, we share the concerns of UAEM that without a Global Access Policy on Technology Transfer, the products of research at the University threaten to be inaccessible to a significant proportion of people around the world. In particular, we note that the current policy for intellectual property licensing through Cambridge Enterprise does not ensure that all products of COVID-19 research will be available to all members of the public. Whilst the University reportedly will offer free non-exclusive licenses where there are multiple applications of such research, there has still been no public indication of which research will be designated as pandemic-related, nor how new licensing practices will be carried out. There is also no current policy that aims to limit profits made by private companies that receive licenses, which in some cases has already pushed the price of treatments well above a price that would be accessible or affordable. Without a clear and publicly accessible policy, there is a risk that the benefits of pandemic-related research will continue to be restricted to those who can afford it. 

 

Beyond the moral and social imperative of the University having a clear Global Access Policy on Technology Transfer and the University’s mission to ensure its output contributes to society, much of this research has been produced using UK public funding, amounting to millions of pounds.  Licensing research outputs for significant private profit will  continue to restrict access to medicine to individuals in the UK and globally, and could prolong the pandemic, damaging our ability to live, work and rebuild our economy. 

 

Students, and by extension the SU, have taken an interest in the past year in the accessibility of medical technologies as members of the University. Many of the research students who we represent contribute directly to development of the technologies in question, and we have seen an overwhelming demonstration of interest in making pandemic-related technologies affordable and accessible. An open letter authored by UAEM on the issue was signed by hundreds of students, staff, alumni and student-led organisations, including medical societies and combination rooms. We also saw a motion passed on the issue at the SU’s Student Council by an overwhelming majority of representatives, showing as stakeholders both in the institution and in the development of research itself, we believe that student voices should be listened to on this vital issue within our community. 

 

We therefore would like to voice our support to the ongoing discussions between UAEM and Cambridge Enterprise, and ask Cambridge Enterprise and the University to ensure that they remain engaged on this issue with the aim of working towards an actionable and sustainable Cambridge-specific Global Access Policy for Technology Transfer. This is particularly vital given the upcoming change of leadership at Cambridge Enterprise. 

We hope that this continued engagement will strengthen the University’s position as a global leader in minimising the loss of life wrought by COVID-19, and more generally in ensuring that all people, regardless of their nationality or wealth, are able to access the highest attainable standard of health.

Best wishes,

Ben Margolis, Cambridge SU President (UG) 

On behalf of Cambridge SU