University contributions to the HPV vaccine and implications for access to vaccines in developing countries: addressing materials and know-how in university technology transfer policy

Am J Law Med. 2009;35(2-3):253-79. doi: 10.1177/009885880903500202.


Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, with most of the disease burden concentrated in developing countries. Over 90 percent of cervical cancer deaths, almost all of which are caused by HPV, occur in low- and middle-income countries where access to goods and services for prevention and treatment pose major barriers to intervention. In resource-poor settings lacking the capacity for routine screening for cervical cancer, the HPV vaccines developed by Merck and GlaxoSmithKline are desperately needed to help prevent these unnecessary deaths. The initial development of currently available HPV vaccines took place at a number of universities and other publicly funded institutions, yet there is little low-cost access to the vaccine in developing countries where access would be most critical. This is the rule rather than the exception with most university-discovered medicines. Universities and other publicly-funded institutions can adopt a number of licensing methods to ensure that vaccines discovered on their campuses are available at low-cost in developing countries. Universities Allied for Essential Medicines has proposed that universities adopt Global Access Licensing policies to implement these changes by enabling generic or low-cost production of the end product in developing countries. Generic competition is a critical market force that has, for instance, driven down the price of HIV/AIDS treatments from more than $10,000 to less than $99 per patient per year today. While the central barrier to creation of small molecule generics is patent-protection, there are multiple additional barriers that need to be addressed in order to ensure the efficient production of cost-effective generic vaccines and other biologics. While certain biologics may require generic producers to perform additional clinical trials, vaccines are in a somewhat unique situation with respect to both safety and efficacy. With access to appropriate patents, materials and knowledge, vaccines have the potential to be evaluated efficiently and cost-effectively via a pathway parallel to establishing bioequivalence for generic small molecule drugs. A new paradigm is needed that addresses the additional barriers that exist, outside of simply patent protection, to the generic production of vaccines and other biologics. One possible framework, which builds upon previous work on prize funds and patent pools, is discussed here: a Patents, Materials, and Know-how Pool (PMK Pool), based on the patent pool model such as those outlined in the Essential Medical Inventions Licensing Agency and proposals recently put forth by the governments of Barbados and Bolivia. University approaches to licensing vaccines and other biologics need to ensure access not only to patents, knowledge, and materials covered by intellectual property, but must also address the problem of access to materials and know-how that are often proprietary trade secrets. Universities should actively participate in the creation of this and other novel mechanisms, and in the meantime use currently available technology transfer mechanisms to ensure low-cost access to medicines in developing countries.

MeSH terms

  • Developing Countries*
  • Drug Industry
  • Drugs, Generic / supply & distribution
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Papillomavirus Vaccines / economics*
  • Patents as Topic
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Universities*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / mortality
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / virology


  • Drugs, Generic
  • Papillomavirus Vaccines