One-third of the world's population lacks access to essential medicines. In the poorest parts of Africa and Asia, this figure climbs to one-half. This global health and medicines crisis is the result of increased microbial resistance to older medicines, discontinued production of unprofitable existing medicines, and the prohibitive price of many drugs. In addition, very few new drugs are being developed to tackle major diseases affecting people in poor countries. Many other factors also contribute to the problem of limited access to essential medicines, including logistical supply and storage problems, substandard drug quality, and the inappropriate selection and use of drugs.

This piece focuses on the role universities can play in helping to improve access to medicines in developing countries. Most basic medical research in the United States takes place at universities. Universities can take steps to increase the amount of research relevant to health in the developing world. Universities also hold patents on many important medicines. By managing this intellectual property (IP) responsibly, universities can do much to ensure access to medical innovations in developing countries.