University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Universities should take a stand against big pharma

Distorted — 90 per cent of the world's research resources are spent on ten per cent of the global burden of disease. And it is biased towards developed countries in the Global North. This is partly due to the interference of the pharmaceutical industry. And it should be the universities' responsibility to resist.

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Ten million people die every year because they do not have access to essential medicine. And people in the poorest countries are affected by diseases that have no treatment. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately one billion people suffer from one or more of the so-called Neglected Tropical Diseases, colloquially known as ‘NTD’s’.

Biased towards the North

NTD’s primarily affect patients in low- and medium-income countries with low purchasing power. And this results in a shortage of research and development on treatments. 90 per cent of the world’s research resources are spent on just ten per cent of the global burden of disease. And it is biased towards developed countries in the Global North.


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The lack of access to medicine is a complex problem. There can be no doubt, however, that financial interests often overshadow health perspectives in the development of new medicine. That the pharmaceutical industry only has a minor interest in conducting research that supports global health needs is not new.

There is, for example, for the same reason, no development of new antibiotics in the pipeline, despite the fact that there is an increase in resistance to the antibiotics throughout the world. We also feel the consequences of the high medicine prices in Denmark, something that is undermining the finances of our healthcare system.

Affects you too

The development of new drugs depends to a large extent on basic research carried out at public universities, paid for via public funds. The results of publicly funded projects are sold to pharmaceutical companies, who then complete the process of developing and producing the final product. And during this process, companies are granted a patent on the drugs.

They are then able to price the products pretty much as they please. As the system is now, society ends up paying twice for the medicine: First through publicly funded research, and later by purchasing the final drugs via the high price in the private sector.

There are several problems with this model. First of all, publicly funded research from the universities is transferred to industry without ensuring that patients ultimately have access to the medicines. Secondly, private companies’ support for university research means that the industry has an influence on what is being researched at Danish universities. Clearly, this also has consequences in terms of which diseases it is that are researched.

Universities, take responsibility!

Universities should therefore take responsibility. They need to fight back against the pronounced distortion of the prioritization of diseases.

One model could be that universities received one, lump sum, grant of money

One model could be that the university received one, lump sum, grant of money, which was then distributed between the various research institutions, depending on the global burden of the diseases in question. This would also be a relief to the individual researcher who currently spends a lot of time applying for grants via foundations.

Another proposal is that the universities implement guidelines on how publicly funded university research is handled in the transfer process from university to industry. In UAEM, we have prepared a workable framework and have repeatedly tried to have a dialogue with the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) about this. But we have encountered a good deal of resistance.

UCPH does not believe that they can implement guidelines on how university research should be handled. But this has been done at several other European and American universities, for example at the University of Bergen, the University of Edinburgh and the University of California. So we find it difficult to see the arguments for why it is not possible at UCPH.

Equal access to vital knowledge

We believe that the Danish state and publicly funded research institutions have a moral and ethical responsibility. A responsibility to ensure that products developed using taxpayers’ money should also benefit the taxpayers.

Universities and other publicly funded research institutions can contribute to solving some of the problems we have outlined. The task of these institutions is to generate new knowledge for the benefit of society. We believe for this reason that they have a responsibility to make this knowledge available rather than to have it hidden away behind patents.

A country like Denmark should fight to ensure that all people – regardless of their social and economic status – have access to essential medicine. And this fight starts at the university.


Albert Rischel, student of health and IT
Lærke Nilausen, student of pharmaceutical sciences
Marjan Rahimi, student of public health science
Nynne Nørgaard, medical doctor
Marjan Rahimi, student of public health science
Siham Hashi, student of Global Health