Salon.com Profiles Law Student Who Lead Fight Against Yale/Bristol-Myers Patent DealSalon.com yesterday profiled Amy Kapczynski, the 26-year-old Yale University law student whose research and activist efforts helped bring about the "monumental" decision by the university and pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb to relinquish their patent rights on the AIDS drug d4T in South Africa. That move also eventually helped end the lawsuit brought by a consortium of pharmaceutical companies against South Africa's Medicines and Related Substances Control Act, as it was "critical in turning the public relations tide," Salon.com notes. Kapczynski said she was "viscerally jolted into an awareness of the gulf that separates the reality of AIDS in the industrialized world from that in impoverished countries like South Africa" when she attended a shadow conference for women at the World AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, last July. In Durban, she met Toby Kasper, the head of Doctors Without Borders' Access to Essential Medicines Program, and told him she was interested in working with his organization on legal issues faced by HIV-positive individuals. After the conference, Kasper contacted her and another Yale law student, Marco Simons, "alerting" them that he intended to ask Yale to grant a license for d4t -- sold under the brand name Zerit -- to Doctors Without Borders and asking them to "help mobilize faculty and students" to support his campaign.
Research and Reporters
Though Kapczynski secured the support of Dr. William Prusoff, the Yale professor who invented the drug, Yale initially rejected Kasper's request in February, saying that only Bristol-Myers could respond to the request under the terms of their licensing agreement. Kapczynski did the legal research to investigate the terms of that agreement and "put reporters at the Yale Daily News on the trail of the story." On March 9, Kasper responded to Yale, and, citing Kapczynski's research, argued that the deal with Bristol-Myers violated the university's licensing provisions, which "require" that licensing agreements "benefit society in general." Meanwhile, Prusoff spoke out publicly in the New York Times in support of the students and Doctors Without Borders. His comments proved to be the "last straw" and on March 15, Bristol-Myers announced it would not enforce its patent on d4t in South Africa. Kapczynski, who had worked with an AIDS organization in London and as a researcher for a "60 Minutes II" special on AIDS in Africa before going to Yale, said her campaign was "not about feeling bad and doing things out of guilt. People have a right to medication. They have a right to dignity and to have their own lives and the highest attainable standard of health." At the time, Kapczynski said, she "didn't realize how big of a deal" the Yale effort would be, but Kasper said the developments at Yale "could not have happened" without her. "She was driving things there and did a great job just getting out and talking to the right people," he said (Lindsey, Salon.com, 5/1).