Gloria Tavera, an MD/PhD student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, has been named one of Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 young leaders in the health care category. The list, which includes 30 honorees in each of 20 categories, appears in the January 24 issue of the magazine. More than 15,000 online nominations were received; the 600 total recipients reflect a four-percent acceptance rate.
Tavera, 29 years old, was recognized for her work, beginning in 2005, as a member, board member, and current president of the North American board of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines. The international nonprofit student-driven organization, established in 2001, works to make vital medicines available to patients in countries where they cannot afford them. It has more than 100 chapters at universities in nearly 20 countries.
“Potentially life-saving research on new medicines is being carried out in academic institutions throughout the world,” said Tavera. “Universities Allied for Essential Medicines wants to make sure that the technology transfer, patenting, and licensing policies of these institutions are a help, not a hindrance in getting the medications to people everywhere who need them most. The goals are first, affordable medicines for everyone and second, medicines that target diseases in low- and middle-income countries, not just those aimed at patients in richer countries.”
Tavera is a Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) student in the labs of Scott Williams PhD, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, and Christopher L. King, MD, PhD, professor of international health, medicine and pathology. Her research explores the roles of bacteria co-evolution with humans and bacterial gene networks in promoting gastric cancer. She also studies the human immune response to malaria.
As part of its efforts, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines has developed a licensing-terms template that universities can adapt to their circumstances, committing them to increase access to medical innovations in lower- and middle-income countries.
“Much of biomedical research is taxpayer-funded,” said Tavera. “Discoveries that result from this financial support must be made accessible and affordable to patients who need them. Many drugs today are priced too high to be of use globally. Our template is acknowledgement of and an effort to correct this reality.” The organization also encourages universities to evaluate their research to make sure that needs of patients in lower- and middle-income countries are being met. And it works to raise awareness among health care, law, and economics students, among others, about the importance of maximizing access to vital, affordable medicines.
RE: Route, one of the organization’s projects, provides a review of research and development approaches that offer an alternative to what Tavera calls “the current system where medical research is often incentivized by profit not patient need.” The current proprietary model, she says, “has been effective in some areas, but has also left a lot of people behind.” Examples of alternative approaches included in the RE: Route compendium include drug discovery and data-sharing platforms, disease-specific product development partnerships, drug-discovery incentives including prizes and tax subsides, and drug patent pools.
A second initiative, Take Back Our Meds, is an advocacy campaign targeting the National Institutes of Health and other government funders of biomedical research and development. It seeks to mandate taxpayer-funded research grants to require global access licensing for low- and middle-income countries, as well as affordable pricing requirements in the U.S.
The University Report Card, a third project, assesses research universities’ success in increasing access to medicines and medical technologies in low- and middle-income countries. (CWRU tied for fifth with Duke and Yale, among 59 institutions.) Criteria include the number of grants focusing on global health research and neglected diseases, the presence of licensing policies that promote access and affordability in developing countries, the number of faculty PubMed publications addressing global health and neglected diseases, and the presence of a research center dedicated to neglected diseases.
Tavera, who was born in Longwood, Florida, graduated with a neurobiology and political science double major, with a minor in public health, from the University of Florida. As an undergraduate with an interest in studying chemical signaling in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, she and a friend started the university’s chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines. “My undergrad majors and minor are reflected in my role as president of the North American board of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines,” said Tavera. “Science and social justice policies are most effective when they come together. We often think they should be separate, but our work shows that it’s important to combine them on behalf of patients in need.”
“I came to CWRU for many reasons,” said Tavera. “First it has an outstanding intellectual reputation. Second, it was the right size for me: large enough to carry out sophisticated work, but small enough to develop strong working relationships with faculty members and my fellow students. And third, I was impressed with a university and school that have so many brilliant women in senior positions including President Snyder, Dean Davis, and Dr. Lina Mehta, the associate dean for admissions.”
Tavera hopes the Forbes recognition will increase awareness of the problems of poor availability of drugs and costly prices for them in the developing world and increasingly, in the United States and Europe. “While I am very grateful for the recognition, this isn’t about me,” she said. “It’s about creating policies in government and universities that prioritize the needs of patients harmed by high-priced medications.”
To learn more about Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, visit uaem.org.