We Have a Drug Problem: An Interview with Izzy Levine about UAEM McGill

Meet Izzy Levine, a second-year student at McGill in the Faculty of Arts. Izzy is also the president of the McGill chapter of the Universities Allied for Essential Medicine organization and today we had the chance to speak with her about the world's "drug problem". 

Stephanie Sim for HerCampus McGill (HC McGill): What is the Universities Allied for Essential Medicine organization?

Izzy Levine: UAEM is a global student-advocacy organization that strives to make life-saving medicines accessible to all. Universities can play a huge role in the pricing of medicine, as many drugs are created on university campuses with money from taxes. However, once the drugs are developed, they are all too often licensed off inequitably. This means when pharmaceutical companies receive the rights to the drug, they also receive the right to charge as much as they want for the drug. This means life-saving medicines (like treatments for Tuberculosis, HIV, cancer drugs, etc.) funded by taxpayers end up costing far too much for many to afford. UAEM’s goal is to tackle this problem, through policy work, creating advocacy on campuses, and through both national and global campaigns.


HC McGill: When, where, and by who was the UAEM organization founded? 

Izzy Levine: UAEM was founded in 2001 at Yale University. A group of students caught wind that an HIV/AIDS treatment created on their campus was about to be licensed off to Bristol-Myers Squibb, a major pharmaceutical company, under an exclusive license. After major advocacy work, the group of students convinced Yale and Bristol-Myers Squibb to allow the drug to be produced in sub-Saharan Africa, which led to a 30-fold price drop in the production cost. Since this victory, UAEM has grown into a worldwide organization, with chapters at over 100 universities.


HC McGill: What impact does the UAEM have on the local McGill and Montreal community? 

Izzy Levine: UAEM has a growing chapter at McGill, and we are working on securing some exciting policy changes in McGill’s Technology Transfer Office (the office that handles where drug licensing happens). We also host fun advocacy events around campus to raise awareness about our goals. One of the initiatives we are beginning to work on is a Transparency Campaign - specifically regarding clinical trials. Many universities (McGill included) do not publish the results of all of their clinical trials, which stunts progress in drug development, and often results in people having to go through redundant, and often painful, clinical trials. This project could impact the greater Montreal community, as the medicines created and tested at McGill in the future could easily target a disease that might affect Montreal. Many hold the false notion that access to medicines is predominantly an issue in low-income countries. UAEM McGill is working to remind people that access to medicines impacts people all over the world, especially given that Canada has the second highest drug prices in the world.

A photo of one of UAEM'S creative advocacy events. To encourage the McGill administration to sign onto an equitable licensing framework, they asked students around campus to sign their poster, while holding pill bottles on the ends of sticks (keeping essential medicines ‘just out of reach’).


HC McGill: How did you get involved in UAEM? What is your position within the organization? 

Izzy Levine: I initially found out about UAEM in my first year through a cousin of mine who graduated from McGill. I then quickly got involved in McGill’s UAEM chapter, of which I am now President.


HC McGill: How can other students get involved with the UAEM?

Izzy Levine: We are always open to and excited about new members! Feel free to reach out to me directly via Facebook, or request to join our “UAEM McGill - General Members” Facebook group to find out about upcoming projects and club meetings.

A picture of some of UAEM McGill’s members at their most recent annual North American Conference - hosted at McGill this year!


All information and images obtained from the interviewee.