Indian-American Priti Krishtel awarded prestigious Fellowship of MacArthur Foundation

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Priti Krishtel, Health Justice Lawyer, 2022 MacArthur Fellow, Oakland, CA. Photo: credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Priti Krishtel, 44, of Oakland, California, is among the 25 MacArthur Fellows whose names were released by the MacArthur Foundation to receive one of the most coveted awards, often called the “Genius Grant,”

Krishtel was chosen for “Exposing the inequities in the patent system to increase access to affordable, life-saving medications on a global scale.”

The MacArthur Fellowship is a $625,000, no-strings-attached grant for individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work and the promise to do more, the MacArthur Foundation website (macfound.org) says.

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Krishtel is the only Indian-American on the list of people who the Foundation describes  as “exceptionally creative people (who) push the boundaries of their fields and challenge us to imagine new possibilities. They shift how we connect to one another, the world, our history, and our stories

Krishtel, who did her bachelors at University of California, Berkeley, and earned her law degree from New York University, focuses on privacy and intellectual property, and health policy, according to the announcement.

“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,” Marlies Carruth, director of the MacArthur Fellows program at the MacArthur Foundation, is quoted saying.

A health justice lawyer, Krishtel is credited with exposing the inequities in the patent system to increase access to affordable, life-saving medications on a global scale, the Foundation said.

“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,” Krishtel says on a video on the Foundation website, adding that the patent system is not working today.

“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.”

According to the MacArthur Foundation, “By distilling the technical aspects of the patent system to show its sometimes devastating impact on people’s lives, Krishtel is galvanizing a movement to center people instead of only commercial interests in our medicines patent policy.”

At the height of the global AIDS epidemic Krishtel worked to increase access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatments, working alongside patients dying of AIDS “and saw first-hand how patent monopolies often reduced the availability of life-saving medications in lower income countries,” the Foundation noted.

In 2006, Krishtel co-founded the Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge (I-MAK) which aims to ensure the public had a voice in the pharmaceutical patent system.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Krishtel has argued powerfully that incentivizing innovation should not come at the expense of equity and public health. Particularly during public health emergencies and for taxpayer-funded research, commercial and public interest concerns can be balanced,” it noted.

Early in her career, Krishtel 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.

She 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.

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