First UK University Global Health Research League Table recently published reveals that University of Liverpool ranks 5th out of 25 top universities

The university received a B grade, as the highest ranked institution outside Oxford and London

Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) and Medsin-UK recently launched the first UK University Global Health Research League Table in the Houses of Parliament. The league table ranks the UK’s 25 top-funded universities according to their commitment to global health research, including the University of Liverpool placed at 5th.

The League Table reveals that the University of Liverpool invests a substantial proportion of its research money in global health research. Oxford University, LSHTM, Imperial College and University College London lead the ranking. Outside of the top five, universities undertake little global health research as a proportion of research budgets. Ten universities were awarded a grade D or below for their commitment to global health research. Overall Liverpool was awarded a B. Across assessed metrics, Liverpool ranked 4th for innovation but 10th for access.

Medsin-UK and UAEM found that the university devotes 4.22% and 22.78% of their research funding towards research for health in developing countries and neglected diseases, respectively. This compares to a national average of 2% and 1.7%. Of the 25 leading UK research universities, only seven have committed to making their discoveries accessible in developing countries. University of Liverpool is yet to commit to such a policy. Universities that pioneer affordability, such as Oxford and UCL, reported using these provisions in at least half of all agreements licensing medical discoveries.

Despite widespread university policies aimed at making research freely available online, the results of these efforts seem to have had mixed success. On average, 82% of research output across the 25 universities could be classified as free-access; University of Liverpool has 82% of its research output freely available online.

“Most universities are not doing enough to tackle the needs of the poorest. Universities should take seriously their ability to do work in areas that are neglected by profit-seeking companies,” said Dzintars Gotham, co-lead of the Global Health Research League Table. “Sixteen of the top twenty-five universities have not committed to sharing their medical discoveries in a way that promotes access. Despite most research funding coming from government grants, medicines developed in universities can be priced out of reach of patients in the developing world. Policies on how discoveries are patented are crucial in avoiding this. Universities have a duty to maximise the effects of cutting-edge research performed by our best scientists.”

“The first ‘UK Global Health Research League Table’ reflects a growing global movement to understand the effects of academic biomedical research on access to essential medicines, spreading from North America to Europe,” said Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health.

“Now more than ever students, faculty, and broader university communities need to hold their institutions accountable for implementing policies that will increase access to life-saving essential medicines and medical technologies, for conducting research on the world’s most neglected health needs, and for empowering communities worldwide to strive to do the same. The League Table is a key advocacy tool for driving forward this change.”

Universities have been graded using criteria measuring research funding and output, including the level of investment in global health research and research in neglected diseases that affect primarily the world’s poorest, whether they share new discoveries in ways that ensure medicines reach people in developing countries at affordable prices, and how much of their research is freely available online.

The UK is a global leader in research and has a long tradition of demonstrating the power of public research. Recent world university rankings showed that four of the world’s top six universities are in the UK.

While more than 30% of new drugs are developed at universities, price is a persistent barrier to accessing medication in the developing world and, increasingly, in high-income countries. Policies that make research publicly available and medicines affordable in developing countries are key to having a greater impact on global health. Universities can use socially-responsible licensing to make sure that medicines, vaccines and diagnostics they develop are affordable in the developing world, while maintaining profit incentives.

These policies are an easy and cost-effective way of maximising the global effect of drugs developed in universities. Nobel Laureate Sir John Sulston, who endorses the League Table, said: “By making biomedical discoveries open to all wherever possible, by ensuring that they are licensed in a socially responsible way and by addressing needs of the poorest people, a university can make a unique contribution to global health. Nobody loses from such policies – everyone wins – and universities that adopt them become stronger and more attractive to the most able students. The University Global Health Research League Table is a great way to track progress and to draw attention to best practice.”

The full League Table is available online at www.globalhealthgrades.org.uk