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Autumn is coming...

what has UAEM Europe been doing in the summer months?

The Teixobactin Project

Though new antibiotics are urgently needed, not enough research is conducted in this field. Given that an antibiotic is usually taken for a few weeks to cure an infection, while other types of medication (e.g. for hypertension) are taken for a lifetime, the amount of drugs a company can sell for chronic conditions is higher, and thus curative therapies are of less financial interest.​
Nonetheless, an exciting discovery was presented in early 2015 – teixobactin. A compound produced by a bacteria species to fend off rival microbes, it has shown promising results against gram-positive strains, notably including MRSA and tuberculosis. It has attracted attention in journals (notably Nature), popular science magazines such as NewScientist, and the general press.
Drug-resistant tuberculosis is one of the main diseases UAEM is interested in. Recognising the potential of this drug, UAEM encourages Global Access Licensing to be implemented for teixobactin. Martin Thomson of the newsletter team spoke with Thilo von Groote from Münster, who coordinates UAEM's teixobactin project in Germany.
1. Could you tell us something about the early stages of UAEM's teixobactin project? How did you find out about teixobactin, what made you decide it was a worthy cause to commit to, how did UAEM become involved?

Andreas Kasper from Leipzig read an article about teixobactin in a public newspaper during 2015's German conference. On the very next day, we organised a workshop to look up more information on the topic and were impressed by the medicine's efficacy. While we found out a German public institute was involved in teixobactin research, public funds and the researchers involved in the project were very hard to uncover. We found out that a new company – NovoBiotics – had been created and was now holding a patent for teixobactin. This is called a spin-off company and is a problem for us, since creating a spin-off means that the patent is no longer held by the university, so GAL guidelines can be evaded.
German and North American UAEM members wrote a letter to Dr. Schneider, who was the German project leader. Following some discussion, she was supportive of UAEM's endeavour to implement GAL for teixobactin and forwarded the letter to the American leader Prof. Lewis. He didn't answer immediately, and in the meantime, Brooke Baker of Boston University's law department also expressed interest in UAEM's campaign. There will soon be a meeting with Profs. Lewis and Baker and UAEM at Boston University. Keaton Andreas, the Campus & Campaign Organizer of UAEM North America, organised this meeting and is my American partner in this project.
Lewis is, of course, completely in charge of the decision regarding GAL and has a financial interest in NovoBiotics' profits. Our arguments, which are primarily moral, may look weak against that. However, we can also point out that his public image would benefit from making an ethical decision here. It's not just about GAL either – MRSA and tuberculosis are both diseases teixobactin could combat, but only the former is a huge problem in the Western world as a main nosocomial infection.
Tuberculosis medication is less profitable, but very important for poorer countries, so again it's ethically important that teixobactin is used against it, but that's possibly not pragmatic for NovoBiotics.

2. While teixobactin looks promising, it also seems like it won't see clinical use for some time to come. Could you name some advantages and disadvantages of UAEM becoming involved in such an early stage of medicine development? Is early involvement something we should aim to repeat with other compounds in the future?
Teixobactin is still at a university level rather than drug development by pharamaceutical companies. It's been very interesting to discover the motivations of researchers involved in the project. We had little knowledge about university level research, so learning about that has been a great benefit. Specifically, our expertise on spin-offs has grown.
However this ends, it's going to be good for UAEM. I mean, either GAL is implemented, which is great for obvious reasons, or Prof. Lewis refuses, which allows us to use this case as an example to convince universities while GAL for spin-offs is necessary. They're in a very interesting zone between public and private research. The only way it would be bad for UAEM is if some compromise is reached that neither allows teixobactin's use as a positive role-model or as a negative example.

3. How do you see teixobactin R&D taking place in the future?
NovoBiotics is a small company. As such, it probably doesn't have the capacities to complete all stages of drug development and production itself. The stage 1 and 2a trials were done by NovoBiotics and went well. 2b could still take place under NovoBiotics, but I expect them to sell the patent to a larger company for stage 3 testing. If the compound's potential is proven by stages 1 to 2b, it's a lower risk investment for the buying company, so NovoBiotics would have more leverage and can get a better price if stage 2b is already taken care of before the sale.
(Editor's note: stage 1 means animal testing, stage 2a testing on healthy humans to check for risky side-effects, stage 2b is first testing on sick humans and stage 3 is large-scale testing on sick humans)
You can't really judge professors for selling their products to pharmaceuticals because it's the only practical way. None the less, with spin-offs being in a grey area between public and private research, they need to keep public interests in mind, which to us means that they only sell the patent if GAL and development of tuberculosis drugs is guaranteed by the buying company.
4. An interesting aspect of teixobactin is that iChip (the method used to culture the teixobactin-producing bacteria) is also novel and recently patented. Given that a method could, in theory, result in the discovery of multiple medicines, do you think UAEM should pay more attention to new methods used in research? I feel we are currently very focused on the medicines themselves, but if the methods used to create these medicines are also being patented, could we take action on that level more frequently?
We did consider focusing on iChip as the main aspect of our project. Since it's a method for cultivating different bacteria species, it could produce many useful compounds, not just teixobactin, and has done so in the past. However, while teixobactin is a novel development, iChip is actually 18 years old and so is its patent. If we're not mistaken, iChip's patent will expire in 2 years. So it simply wasn't sensible to choose iChip as our focus. If we discovered a method more early in its patent's lifespan, we could act differently. 
5. How would one get involved in the teixobactin project? What kind of tasks could people interested in joining expect to carry out?
It's hard to say what degree of help we need right now. I would encourage people interested in the project to contact us after our meeting with Prof. Lewis, so we can more accurately plan what our course of action will be, and how many people we'll need. (Editor's note: we'll report on the outcome of the meeting in the newsletter once it's been held.)
We're optimistic with regards to the meeting, and very happy with the way our cooperation with UAEM North America and Prof. Lewis has went so far. This degree of cooperation between Europe and North America – it's been practically 50/50, with Germany doing more in the early stages of the project and America doing more now – is unusual and very positive.
Northeastern University in Boston doesn't have a chapter yet, and founding one could be very helpful for the teixobactin project. 

UAEM Berlin: Flashmob

Having had two rather frustrating years of fruitless emails, conversations and meetings with the technology transfer office (TTO) of Charité University about the implementation of a policy for Social Responsible Licences (SRL), Berlin UAEMers decided to go one step further: to address Charité’s new dean Prof. Axel Pries, who in 2009 was in favour for the adoption of a (more symbolic) social clause for the technology transfer. Now that he has been voted dean, he has the power to implement a policy that ensures that all endproducts (drugs, diagnostic instruments and other technologies) whose basic invention took place at Charité’s laboratories are accessible for all human beings worldwide. To raise the dean’s attention for this urgent topic, nearly 40 students – mostly UAEMers, but also Charité students from other working groups – performed a flashmob in front of the faculty council’s conference lead by Prof. Pries in July 2015. ​
 With three huge and impressing virus costumes (malaria, HIV and tuberculosis), lent from the Doctors Without Borders office, with speaking choirs, banners and human bodies forming ‚GAL’ (Global Access Licencing, a synonym for SRL), the students tried to deliver their message: that GAL must be written down in a binding policy that fulfills the 10 points demand charter composed by UAEM.

Funny enough that Berlin’s medical faculty once was a pioneer in the field of SRL when implementing the social clause in 2009 as first university in Germany. Now, the universities of Tübingen and Münster already have detailed policies about the handling with patents, licences and intellectual property, and the university of Freiburg is making big progress in establishing a comprehensive policy containing SRL principles and a transparency  instruction. Berlin lacks behind – but at least, the flashmob had some effects: two UAEMers got the possibility to talk in front oft he faculty council about the topic. Prof. Pries and Prof. Dirnagl, the head of the department of Experimental Neurology, were very interested and offered further steps in this direction – as it looks, Berlin UAEMers still need to have some pacience, but at least the ball got rolling. And besides – the flashmob was big fun for all participants! 

-- Martin Thomson

UAEM's 2nd Training Camp

Berlin, Sept 2015.

Hello from the Board!

You may remember from the last newsletter that we had our first physical board meeting in Berlin from September 18th to 20th. It makes a huge difference to our work if we can actually meet each other in person and get to know the rest of the board.
At this meeting, we discussed UAEM’s vision and mission, as defined on our website, and what we need to do in order to come one step closer to achieving them. The objective of the first physical board meeting was to establish board functioning for the upcoming year, to identify work plan priorities for 2015-16 in line with the European Action Plan and to establish a strong working relationship with the Executive Director, Carolyn Whitten, who is here with us until May 2016. In this respect, it was a very valuable meeting - and it was a real pleasure. What was it all about then? 
 We will meet again, together with some ECC and EmCom members, at the European Leadership Meeting (ELM) which will take place in London this November. Until then, the board committees (Finance/Fundraising, Governance, Human Resources) will be developing and carrying out their work plans for the rest of the term.
If you’re interested in the breakdown of the board committees, you can find some information in the table below.
If you want to present a topic or question to the Board, you are free to join our monthly skype calls. Just let us know.
All the best from your board, and thanks for your outstanding contributions to UAEM!

-- The European Board (


Chair: Rachel     
Members: Tommi, Zavira, Max Br., Max Bender

Chair: Zavira
Members: Isabelle, Max Bender

FINANCE/ FUNDRAISING                  
Chair: Jonny
Members: Isabelle, Caroline

ELM PLANNING: Zavira, Tommi, Rachel, Max, Brauner

Tommi (CHAIR); Caroline (TREASURER); Isabelle (NEWSLETTER); Rachel (pGGC Liaison); Max Br (ECC Liaison); Zavira and Max (EmCom Liaison). 


Events and interesting opportunities for UAEM Europe

Oct 2nd-3rd, Vienna (Austria)
Trinational Meeting 

Oct 10th-13th, Berlin (Germany)
World Health Summit

Oct 30th-31st and Nov 1st, Bordeaux (France)
First UAEM conference in French

Access to Medicines Week

Have you registered your chapter or National branch?
Please fill in the form with your data! And then, celebrate. 

| Access to Medicines Week |

A quick look on this major event...

This year's Access to Medicines Week will focus on our R&D Campaign. For those of you who don't know (yet), we are pushing the WHO to continue negotiating a R&D Treaty/Agreement to ensure a needs-driven R&D system. 
A group of passionate UAEMers is already working on it. Join them every Tuesday at 7:30 pm (Berlin time) and see how you can participate. 

We need... 
  • Tweet-inspiration for our Tweet bank
  • Actors and film directors for our Access to Medicines Spot
  • Power-mappers: who do you want to target in your country?
  • Creative action planners: how will you attract media?
Send an email to Júlia, Mariann or Manuel if you wish to participate!
There will be: Twitter storms, movie screenings, panel discussions, actions and debates, op-eds, sign-on letters, viral activity all over Twitter and Facebook... 

Breaking news! 

-- Breaking the current R&D system -- 

Reimbursement of T-DM1, at risk due to exorbitant price

The NHS has no intention of reimbursing the cost of T-DM1, a breast cancer drug manufactured by Roche, due to its stratospheric price. Indeed, it seems that, to Roche, the sky is the limit in price-setting. The consequences will be dramatic: 1500 UK citizens will be forced to cover the cost, and it is very likely that very few people may afford it. 
The Coalition for Affordable T-DM1 (KEI, UAEM UK, Union for Affordable Cancer Treatment, among others), has sent a letter to Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, asking for a compulsory license to allow cheap generics on the market. 
You can read the letter here and you can also read The Guardian's coverage of this story.

Access to Medicines: again on the table in the EU Parliament

On Sept 15th, 2 Spanish MEPs (Lola Sánchez [GUE/NGL] and Beatriz Becerra [ALDE]) held an event focusing on a very particular aspect of the access to medicines problem: what the EU could do regarding TRADE & INNOVATION.
Different stakeholders participated in this panel discussion; Stéphane Vandame (WHO Representation to the EU), Kevin McCarthy (European Commission DG DEVCO), Vanessa López (Salud por Derecho) and myself, Irene Romero (UAEM). The concept note is attached here
Both MEPs wanted a debate between experts and eurocrats, in order to mobilise the political will to support access to affordable medicines. 
The meeting finished with the release of a common declaration on access to medicines by the two MEPs and a question to the EC to ask for further steps in this directions. 
I had the opportunity to understand what the EU's Parliament priorities are, and how it could serve our R&D Agreement campaign. I also got cool/practical advice from activists!  
The failure of the current R&D system was largely addressed and related to the access to medicines problem. Other MEPs were very interested in the matter, such as Nessa Childers (S&D, Ireland), who said that they are already working on it in her political group. Ignazio Corrao (EFDD, Italy) linked this problem to the current refugee crisis. Moreover, Jordi Sebastiá (Greens/EFA, Spain) claimed that this has been flagged for years, but that it is difficult to change the policy. Indeed, one of the goals of the event was to insist on the lack of policy coherence. On Sept 10th, the European Commission granted least developed countries (LDCs) with an indefinite exemption on WIPO rules, to guarantee access to medicines. However, at the same time, the EC is negotiating the TTIP that includes provisions that hinder access to medicines. 
This event has also given me the opportunity to understand how complicated and ambiguous are the relationships between the EU Parliament and the EC. It has also given me the opportunity to discuss with other activists based in Brussels about our current campaign.

Some useful advice from access to medicines & policy-making activists: 

- Get in touch with your politicians/representatives ASAP -- don't wait until you think you are ready to talk to them; because you will never will be ready enough... (you will be OK). 
- Give them everything "ready-to-eat" so that they only have to say yes.
- Getting academia's support is cool, but not as useful as getting the general public or the media.
- UAEM has already enough credibility among academia, go get the news people and the media!
- Always present yourself as the expert, because you are an expert. 
- Be tenacious and persistent; send as many emails and go to as many meetings you can get. 
- Meetings are necessary, but don't forget the streets! -- take action in a creative protest. 
- Be opportunistic: join events where you know you can find your targets, go see them, and sell them you ideas. 
- Other people may be doing the same thing in your country, join them, invite them, inspire them...
- Tweet, tweet, tweet. 
-- Irene Romero (UAEM Madrid)
You can contribute to this Newsletter, sharing your chapter's activities, initiatives, or any idea or news that you wish to share with other UAEM members and allies. Send us your feedback, too! [Just hit REPLY]
Copyright © 2015 UAEM Europe, All rights reserved.

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