UCLA Students Protest University Patent Claim On Prostate Cancer Treatment

Students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) renewed their protests today against a patent claim in an Indian High Court over a leading prostate cancer treatment, saying the claim, if successful, could make the drug unaffordable to millions of people in the developing world.

American Medical Students Association Presidents Tijana Temelkovska (pictured) and Neda Ashtari presented their affordable medications research on 11 March at the 2019 AMSA Convention as part of their effort to convince UCLA to drop the Xtandi lawsuit.

The UCLA students appeared at a Board of Regents meetings as part of a two-year old campaign urging the university to drop its Indian High Court patent claim for enzalutamide, also known by its brand name Xtandi.

UCLA, which originally developed the treatment in 2006, later sold and licensed rights to manufacture and market the drug to for-profit pharmaceutical firms, with those rights eventually acquired by the US-based Pfizer and the Japanese-based Astrellas.

UCLA is now suing in the Indian High Court, on behalf of the pharma firms, to preserve patent rights on the drug against cheaper, generic manufacture.

The student campaign, led by Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) and the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), aims to convince the university to drop its claim altogether. Students last year met with UCLA administrators and delivered a petition with 3500 signatures to UC President Janet Napolitano as part of their campaign.

Since its development, Ezalumatide has since earned the University over half a billion US dollars in royalties, according to a UCLA press release. UCLA has said that earnings from the drug help fund further research that serves “the public good”  as well as supporting scholarships and fellowships.

However, the students say that keeping the patent rights alive in India would come at the expense of cancer patients in developing countries like those in India who cannot afford patented versions of the medication that costs about US$ 5000 a month locally, according to Indian reports.

“In response to our efforts, UCLA Health has offered to utilize a portion of its Xtandi royalties to create a fund for underserved populations to access the drug,” said Neda Ashtari, a UCLA medical student participating in the demonstrations. “While drug donation can offer temporary aid, it is not a sustainable solution and considering the rising prevalence and chronic nature of prostate cancer, the scale of these drug donations would be woefully inadequate.”

The patent claim, if approved, could also set a precedent for UC institutions blocking generic drug production in India or elsewhere around the world, the students fear. The students also say the UCLA patent appeal would undercut licensing guidelines adopted by the UC system in 2012, which ask that academic institutions consider geographic and economic need before profit on such innovations.

“Universities have a responsibility to ensure the drugs developed on their campuses with taxpayer funds are affordable to the people who need them,” said Merith Basey, Executive Director of UAEM, North America. “There is still time to do the right thing and make a decision that will save people’s lives.”

Image Credits: Neda Ashtari.

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