In the wake of losing two of her best friends to leukemia, Priti Radhakrishnan transformed tragedy into a passionate mission to increase medical access and knowledge. I-MAK challenges patent laws to make life-saving medicines affordable to even the most poverty-stricken.
“We started working out of one small room in India with stacks of books and papers everywhere. We look back with pride, it makes the results we achieved even more meaningful.”
"In 2008, largely due to the untimely loss of both my best friends [to acute myeloid leukemia] and feeling fatigued from starting up I-MAK, I lost some hope as to how much we could change the course of patients’ lives,” Priti Radhakrishnan remembers. But the co-founder of the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge (I-MAK), didn’t let the discouragement defeat her. After watching her friends struggle to find bone marrow matches, Priti found a mission in increasing access to medical understanding and treatments. “When we won our first case, I realized how many lives could be impacted and that we could make a difference.”
Limited exposure to the bone marrow registry proved a symptom of a much larger problem: much of the global population can’t afford life-saving drugs. At the heart of the issue is a patent system with flawed incentives, restricting affordable generics that make cost an insurmountable obstacle in developing nations. Priti, a former health attorney, partnered with Tahir Amin to form an independent team of lawyers and scientists dedicated to making the patent system work for patients, not pockets. They challenge patents by filing legal interventions aimed at lowering prices and increasing access to medicines.
Opposing the international pharmaceutical industry is no easy feat, and Priti says most people “show their admiration for what we are trying to do but wonder how we succeed against such powerful interests.” Despite the obstacles, I-MAK has succeeded in bringing about many compulsory licenses for the manufacture or import of generic versions of drugs, circumventing patent rights for better access to essential medicines.
As Director of Treatment Access, Priti says her work will be done “when every person has access to affordable medicines and when the human right to life triumphs over private commercial rights."