Indian American lawyer Priti Krishtel selected for MacArthur Fellowship; to get $800K stipend



Priti Krishtel, a California-based Indian American health justice lawyer, who has been exposing the inequities in the patent system to increase access to affordable, life-saving medications on a global scale is among the 25 high performers from different professional arenas who have been selected for the 2022 MacArthur Fellows Program.

Each MacArthur Fellowship comes with a stipend of $800,000, paid out in equal quarterly installments over five years. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation of Chicago does not require or expect specific products or reports from MacArthur Fellows and does not evaluate recipients’ creativity during the term of the fellowship. “It is a “no strings attached” award in support of people, not projects,” said MacArthur Foundation.

The MacArthur Fellows Program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. In keeping with this purpose, the Foundation awards fellowships directly to individuals rather than through institutions. Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs, or those in other fields, with or without institutional affiliations. They may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in bold new work, or, if they wish, change fields or alter the direction of their careers.

“The 2022 MacArthur Fellows are architects of new modes of activism, artistic practice, and citizen science. They are excavators uncovering what has been overlooked, undervalued, or poorly understood. They are archivists reminding us of what should survive. Their work extends from the molecular level to the land beneath our feet to Earth’s orbital environment—offering new ways for us to understand the communities, systems, and social forces that shape our lives around the globe,” said Marlies Carruth, director, of MacArthur Fellows.

Nominees for MacArthur Fellows Program are brought to the Program’s attention through a constantly changing pool of invited external nominators chosen from as broad a range of fields and areas of interest as possible. They are encouraged to draw on their expertise, accomplishments, and breadth of experience to nominate the most creative people they know within their field and beyond.

Nominations are evaluated by an independent selection committee composed of about a dozen leaders in the arts, sciences, humanities professions, and for-profit and nonprofit communities. After a thorough, multi-step review, the committee makes its recommendations to the president and board of directors of the MacArthur Foundation. Since 1981, 1061 people have been named MacArthur Fellows.

Although nominees are reviewed for their achievements, the fellowship is not a lifetime achievement award, but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential. Indeed, the purpose of the MacArthur Fellows Program is to enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society.

The foundation chose Krishtel because by distilling the technical aspects of the patent system to show its sometimes-devastating impact on people’s lives, she is galvanizing a movement to center people instead of only commercial interests in the medicines patent policy.

“I think a lot about who owns our right to heal. We live in a hierarchy of health. Some people get medicine first, and some don’t get it at all. Our ability to heal should not depend on our ability to pay or where we live. But it does. The patent system is not working as intended. The system blocks competition and concentrates the power to access medicine in the hands of an elite few. It helps create that hierarchy of health,” Krishtel said.

Early in her career, Krishtel worked to increase access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatments at the height of the global AIDS epidemic. She worked alongside patients dying of AIDS and saw first-hand how patent monopolies often reduced the availability of life-saving medications in lower income countries.

In 2006, Krishtel co-founded the Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge (I-MAK) to ensure the public had a voice in the pharmaceutical patent system. Krishtel and the organization are drawing attention to weaknesses within the patent system while identifying needed reforms to make it more responsive to the public good.

Patents are intended to incentivize innovation by ensuring that only the patent holder can sell and profit from the product for a fixed time. However, many pharmaceutical companies seek to extend their monopolies by filing multiple patents on small changes (such as changes in dosage) to existing drugs over several years. This stifles competition, delays generic production, and keeps medicines out of the hands of people who need them the most.

I-MAK has successfully contested patents worldwide, saving governments billions of dollars in public health spending and giving millions of people access to life-saving treatments. Krishtel and I-MAK draw on a participatory process in proposing reforms to the US patent policy.

Their proposed reforms include ensuring that only meaningful inventions are rewarded with a patent, increasing oversight from other government branches, and increasing public participation in the patent process.

“Medicine must always be a global public good. Knowledge can no longer be locked up in this way. I believe in a future where people know they can keep their loved ones healthy, where people actively shape what access to medicines looks like for their families and communities. Where incentives exist for more just drug development and equitable access, ensuring that innovation exists to serve people, to save lives,” she added. “The challenge right now is that we are living in the age of the bully. A time when a small minority of the historically powerful are trying to own the un-ownable. We are saying no and creating a new, more compassionate and inclusive future in its place.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Krishtel has argued that incentivizing innovation should not come at the expense of equity and public health. Krishtel is increasing understanding of how intellectual property policy can impact personal, public, and global health care, and she and I-MAK are envisioning a patent system that benefits all people regardless of geography and economic status.

Krishtel received a BA (1999) from the University of California at Berkeley and a JD (2002) from New York University School of Law. She worked with the Indian NGO Lawyers Collective (2003–2006) before co-founding the Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge (I-MAK) in 2006, where she is currently co-executive director.

Krishtel has published in a variety of scientific journals and media platforms, including Science, Journal of the International AIDS Society, The British Medical Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and USA Today.

Related posts