Frequently Asked Questions

Who Is I-MAK?

The Initiative for Medicines, Access, & Knowledge (I-MAK) is a team of attorneys, scientists, and health experts building a more just and equitable medicines system for all. We work in the public’s interest to address structural inequities in how medicines are developed and distributed, and we envision a world in which people are able to get lifesaving medicines without excessive individual or social cost. I-MAK is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit, and non-governmental organization based in the United States and working globally.

What Does I-MAK Do?

With over 20 years experience increasing global access to medicines, we have developed a framework that integrates deep analytical research, education to activate change, and policy solutions to achieve equity in the medicines system.

I-MAK is building a more inclusive and participatory model for change by bringing together diverse stakeholders for a less polarized, more productive discussion about the medicines system and reforms for health equity. Our Participatory Changemaking model includes patients, scientists, drug company investors, policymakers, journalists, patent lawyers, affected communities, and economists to build greater understanding between groups with different views about the role of intellectual property in society. This process addresses power imbalances by ensuring patients and affected communities have a seat at the policymaking table to create a pathway for reform.

Who Is Hurt By Lack of Access to Medicines?

Much of the world lacks access to timely, effective, and affordable medicines. This has several devastating implications:

  1. It drives social and racial inequity, with 2 billion people worldwide living without access to medicines;
  2. It extends generational poverty, with 90% of people in low- and middle-income countries paying for medicines out of pocket; and
  3. It contributed to unnecessary COVID-19 deaths, as less than 10% of people in the poorest countries were vaccinated at the height of the pandemic compared to 80% in high-income countries.

Even in a wealthy country like the United States, the index price of branded prescription drugs increased by over 60% between 2014 and 2018 -- and nearly a third of Americans now report not taking medication as prescribed because of cost. Among their complex dynamics, all of these problems share one common root cause: a broken medicines system that prioritizes private interests over the public good.

Why Does I-MAK Focus on Patent Reform in the Medicines System?

Each year, millions of people die because they cannot get the medicines they need. This is a market failure brought into sharp focus over the last two years by COVID-19. Patents and other intellectual property (IP) monopolies restrict who can produce medicines, when and where it can be manufactured, and give sole discretion to companies to set prices as high as the market will bear. There is a need to fundamentally shift the structures that allow corporations to abuse their monopolies at the cost of human lives.

The intention of the patent system was to create incentives to develop new inventions for the benefit of the public, but the distortion of the current system has resulted in a lack of broad access to medical and scientific advancements. I-MAK believes that private interests and public access can coexist, but only in a system that is transparent and fair. The system must evolve to better serve the public.

Why Does I-MAK Research and Share Drug Patent Data?

When we have better information we can make better decisions. Currently, there is a wide gap between the amount of information held and protected by the biggest pharmaceutical companies and what is made available to policymakers and the public. Drug patent data is not transparent and this creates a power imbalance where the public is harmed, and lawmakers cannot ensure that the system is working as intended. I-MAK’s research and detailed analysis provides policymakers, the press, and the public greater access to information that has been held secret for far too long. Learn more about our approach here.

What Is I-MAK’s Track Record?

Since its founding in 2006, I-MAK’s work around pharmaceutical patents has helped improve competition, generating savings for public budgets and ensuring more affordable access to medicines. I-MAK’s expertise has been sought out by leading organizations to help bring more transparency and develop evidence-based policy; including by the World Health Organization, Unitaid, GAVI, Clinton Health Access Initiative, and the European Patent Office.

Our research was featured in the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s investigative report on the pharmaceutical industry’s pricing and business practices for branded prescription drugs, and I-MAK’s leadership was invited to present Congressional testimony on this research during the Committee’s hearing on ‘Unsustainable Drug Prices.’ Our work and perspective have been featured in top tier national and international media outlets and publications, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, TIME, Forbes, Financial Times, USA Today, The Hill, Science, The BMJ, NPR, CBS News, Fox Business, and PBS, and our team has received numerous awards and recognitions including the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program and the MacArthur "Genius" grant.

How Is I-MAK’s Work Funded?

I-MAK is committed to creating a world in which people are able to get lifesaving medicines without excessive individual or social cost and where we all have a voice in decisions that shape their health and lives. In order to stay independent and exclusively represent the interests of the public, we do not accept funding from branded or generic pharmaceutical companies. We partner with a broad and diverse group of supporters working to transform the medicines system. Learn more about our partnerships here.

Partner with us now to build
a more just and equitable
medicine system for all.