Letter from Amanda Swarr and Adam Sitze of the Minnesota AIDS Action Coalition to Mark B. Rotenberg,
University of Minnesota General Cousel
May 1, 2001

Mark B. Rotenberg
Office of the General Counsel
University of Minnesota
Room 360 McNamara Alumni Center
200 Oak St SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Dear General Counsel Rotenberg:

We write to you today as members of the Minnesota AIDS Action Coalition, a group dedicated to the distribution of affordable HIV/AIDS medication in developing countries.

As you are probably aware, we have been engaged in cordial conversation with Tony Strauss, Assistant Vice President of the Office for Patents/Technology Marketing, and Christine Maziar, Graduate School Vice President, about the University's patents on the HIV/AIDS drug abacavir.

On the basis of our conversation, we understand that you are soon scheduled to meet with representatives from GlaxoSmithKline to discuss the status of the University's licensing agreement with Glaxo.

We write to you today to ask you to treat that meeting as an opportunity to work with Glaxo to issue "sub-licenses" on abacavir to bona fide generic drug manufacturers (e.g. the Indian company Cipla Ltd.).

In order for such sub-licenses to translate directly into affordable HIV/AIDS treatment, we ask, more precisely, that they:

  1. be granted to any bona fide drug manufacturer willing to distribute abacavir at cost of production or marginally above cost of production;
  2. entail royalty payments of no more than 5%;
  3. entail a research and development "tax" or "tariff" of at least 1% to be reinvested into University research on diseases affecting "developing countries" (where a "developing country" is understood to be any nation-state that is not a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]);
  4. be offered and applicable to any "developing country";
  5. be codified and published in binding language; and
  6. not contain any burdensome, male fide requirements or conditions requiring the licensee to submit details to the University and/or GlaxoSmithKline regarding plans or intentions for product marketing and product regulation.

We believe it best to reach agreement with Glaxo to issue sub-licenses of this kind as soon as possible. On March 7, 2001, Cipla Ltd. applied to the South African government for permission to produce a generic version of abacavir (see Attachment A). Abacavir has also been patented in ARIPO countries such as Botswana, Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The sooner a generic version of abacavir is made available to these countries on an affordable basis, the sooner it will be available to the sick populations therein, and the more lives it will save. The University's decision over whether to work with Glaxo to issue sub-licenses on abacavir is, quite simply, a question of life or death.

It is also a rather direct question. On March 14, 2001, Yale University successfully negotiated with Bristol-Meyers Squibb to ensure that Yale/BMS patents no longer obstruct access to HIV/AIDS medications in Africa. What can be done at Yale can be done at the University of Minnesota. Whether through unilateral action, or a bilateral response coordinated with GlaxoSmithKline, the University can ensure that its patent is not impeding access in developing countries. We believe that the University_s licensing agreement with Glaxo is sufficient to give it the power to do so.

And, ultimately, we believe that public opinion will be satisfied with nothing less than the University's firmest and fullest commitment to the fight against the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. As demonstrated by recent editorials in the Minnesota Daily, the Minnesota student body is decidedly in favor of the University drawing on its powers as a patent-holder to take a leadership role in that fight. At a different level, recent editorials and editorial cartoons in the Pioneer Press, as well as our now-regular conversations with Minnesota legislators, AFSCME representatives, and local AIDS activists, have revealed that Minnesota citizens are deeply disturbed by the idea that the University is not doing everything that it can to join the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Meanwhile, not only have publications ranging from the Star-Tribune to the Wall Street Journal, the UK Guardian, and Salon.com proved their willingness to devote considerable space to this issue, but a number of University faculty have contacted us expressing their interest in organizing a substantial international conference on the topic. Finally, recent letters to President Yudof written by South African, German, and Costa Rican NGOs, as well as by the Yale AIDS Action Coalition, the Health GAP Coalition, Oxfam America, and the novelist John le CarrŽ, are only a small indication of the massive upsurge of international opinion that caused Glaxo and 38 other pharmaceuticals to drop their case against the South African government two weeks ago.

We are certain that the University does not wish to become the focus of a prolonged global campaign around affordable HIV/AIDS medication. However, lives are on the line, and in the absence of sub-licenses enabling the production of generic versions of abacavir in developing countries, our concept of moral responsibility would quite simply leave us no choice but to organize that very campaign.

For these reasons, we ask the University, in its privileged position as patent-holder of abacavir, to draw on all of the resources at its disposal, including the language of the licensing agreement itself, to work with Glaxo to issue sub-licenses on abacavir to generic drug manufacturers. We hope that such sub-licenses would begin to be issued, at the very latest, by the Fall of 2001. We would be happy to meet with you in person to discuss these matters further.


Amanda Swarr
Adam Sitze
Minnesota AIDS Action Coalition

cc: Sam Kean, Minnesota Daily
Christine Maziar, Graduate School
Tony Strauss, Office for Patents/Technology Marketing

CPT Home IP and Healthcare CPT page on HIV/AIDS