Students spend alot of time agonizing over how to be effective advocates for change. Emma Preston, a founding member of UBC UAEM, and this year’s BC Rhodes Scholar, tells of how this group made the university fall head over heals for them.

Billions of people, primarily in poor countries, lack access to lifesaving medicines; millions more suffer from diseases for which no adequate treatment exists. Universities can change this. Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) is a hands-on student organization that focuses on changing university policies in order to increase access to essential medicines in developing countries ( Our mission is two fold. Firstly, to urge universities to ensure that biomedical end products, such as drugs, developed in campus labs are accessible in developing countries, and secondly, to facilitate and promote research on neglected tropical diseases, or those diseases predominantly affecting people who are too poor to constitute a market attractive to private-sector research and development investment. University scientists are major contributors to the drug development pipeline. At the same time, universities have an avowed commitment to advancing the public good. As members of these universities, our fundamental goal is to hold them to this commitment. With a small but committed group of students, representative of the diverse student body at UBC and with some key supporters in the local and international community, we weren’t afraid to think big.

The UBC chapter of UAEM has been active for over two years and is part of a growing global movement of students dedicated to making research and science more globally responsible ( This past November, UBC announced it self as the first university in Canada to commit to providing people in poor countries with easier access to its innovations, stating that “ensuring global access to discoveries and technologies developed at UBC is an important element in achieving the TREK vision. UBC technologies have the potential to generate significant societal impacts, and our technologies relating to the advancement of health, the protection of the environment and the promotion of sustainability have the most obvious benefits for a global society.” The press release noted Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) as “catalysts” for the decision (

The UBC Chapter of UAEM (pronounced “you-aim”) was founded in 2005 by Patricia Kretz, currently a fourth year UBC medical student. Initially, the group consisted of a small number of concerned students meeting at random locations about once a week. A mixed bag of grad students, law students, med students and undergrads, we met everywhere from coffee shops to basements to the west atrium of the Life Sciences Institute. It soon became clear that when it comes to understanding access to essential medicines there are many difficult concepts, jargon and acronyms to familiarize oneself with before anything starts to make sense. There is no doubt that there is a steep learning curve. To address this concern and reach out to the greater student body, UAEM UBC held its first “teach-in” in the fall of 2006 at UBC’s Medical Student Alumni Centre. The aim of this afternoon was to go over the basics of intellectual property, licensing and patent law, the neglected tropical disease research gap, metrics (a.k.a. how a university measures its success), and what university students can do to address these issues.

Another key element in achieving our goals was communicating with UBC faculty and administration. One aspect of this was collecting signatures for the Philadelphia Consensus Statement (PCS), a document that was drafted at the UAEM international meeting at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2006. In a nutshell, the PCS is a document that outlines UAEM’s main goals and ‘signing on’ acts statement of support for these goals. In addition to a number of caring and dedicated faculty, UAEM was fortunate to gain the support of a number of big name global health/humanitarian ‘celebrities’ such as Paul Farmer, Jeffrey Sachs, James Orbinski and, a proud UAEM UBC signature, Stephen Lewis. In this regard it was very helpful to be a chapter of a larger international group and emphasized the benefits of being a multidisciplinary student group in which everyone could use their unique skills and contacts to their full potential.

With a member base and support from the local and international community, we received support from the Alma Mater Society (AMS) and eventually became an AMS club. We also established an advisory board consisting of a diverse array of individuals who had acted as mentors along the way including a journalist, physicians, a number of faculty members and representatives from the University Industry Liaison Office (UILO). With their support and the help of one of our more politically involved members, Gina Eom (of UBC Insider fame), we were able to arrange a series of meetings with President Stephen Toope, VP Research John Hepburn, University Industry Liaison Office (UILO) President Angus Livingstone and Technology Transfer Officer Barbara Campbell.

While we initially met with some valid resistance, the potential of what were proposing and its implications with regards to the Trek 2010 goals of global citizenship were hard to deny. Barbara Campbell emerged as our UILO champion and we were incredibly fortunate to have her dedicated support and commitment. We soon realized that you can’t use a one size fits all global access strategy for all technologies developed at UBC. Developing necessary guidelines and applying global access principles requires a lot of hard work and time on the part of the technology transfer officers at the UILO. As such we were very excited to find that the ideas behind these principles have already influenced the licensing of three new UBC technologies: a peer-to-peer software technology with applications in medical school curriculum delivery, an E. coli vaccine technology, and a new less-toxic formulation of antifungal and anti-Leishmania drug Amphotericin B.

While are starting to see the fruits of our labour in full ripeness, there is still a lot of work to be done. We are working towards developing undergraduate and medical school curriculum on neglected tropical diseases and starting a fund to finance research on these abandoned ailments. We are also in the process of starting chapters at other Canadian universities. As much as ever, we are welcome new members and support within the UBC community with open arms. If you are interested in attending our next meeting or in just finding out more information please don’t hestitate to contact us at:


7 Comments so far

  1. maayan kreitzman on February 8, 2008 8:31 am

    I love the UAEM example. At the november BoG meeting I attended, they were mentioned several times by poeple from the UILO and administrators (including the president) in the most glowing and respected terms. However, you could make the argument that it doesn’t really cost the university anything to resolve to licence technologies ensuring global access. UBC barely makes any moeny off patents anyway. This is a no-cost, great-optics policy that was basically handed to them by students ona silver platter.

  2. Gina Eom on February 8, 2008 9:09 am

    Fostering neglected disease research will require federal funding dedication, which is a key challenge in our mission.

    As mentioned in the article, we are working with federal lobbying organizations to bring the issue to light in Ottawa.

  3. Anonymous on February 8, 2008 5:24 pm

    how ’bout some elections coverage of vp admin race.
    a.) you wont do it because you aint getting money for it
    b.) you wont do it because no one cares

  4. maayan kreitzman on February 8, 2008 5:28 pm

    hmm. How ’bout
    c) I will do it eventually but have quite a few other things to do in life as well

  5. Fire Hydrant on February 9, 2008 1:42 am

    I was at the first(?) UAEM meeting with the UBC admin, shortly after being elected to Board (Jeff and Omar were there too). We’d expected a fair bit of resistance — we’d have to do a lot of convincing and be very well-versed. I gathered this had been the experience at most other universities.

    The UAEM crew gave an excellent presentation, the admin wholeheartedly agreed with basically everything, and the rest of the meeting dealt with timelines, strategies for implementation, and how to get research funding. I sat quietly in the corner, feeling superfluous yet oddly content.


  6. Gina Eom on February 9, 2008 12:51 pm

    d) I’ve been tinkering around candidate’s websites but when it came to the blurps, I can’t access them. Is the AMS website down for everyone else as well, or is it a Germany thing?

  7. leigh-anne on February 11, 2008 2:08 am

    Gina: I can’t seem to access the AMS website either.

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