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Transcripts: 554-1 & 554-2

Week: 554.1 Guest: Dr. David Blumenthal, Health Policy Research/Development Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Topic: Research relationships between academia and industry- Part One of Two Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: Dr. David Blumenthal of the Health Policy Research Unit of Massachusetts General Hospital is with us...to talk about his research into the way universities interact with industry...which has a long, long history....

BLUMENTHAL: Until recently, I would say it was much more common in the chemistry, engineering, physical sciences...but because of the extraordinary progress that's been made in the life sciences, biotechnology and other types of life sciences, there's been an explosion of interactions between the academic side and industries over the last 15 to 20 years. And I think part of that's also because universities have become much more worried about the sources of their funding over time, so everything kind of led in the same direction. Universities work together in a whole range of ways...at one end there's a classic kind of relationship where a drug company or a biotechnology firm will go to a university and say, "we want you to do some research for us, and here's some money"....and the university will say, "okay, here's the terms under which we'll do it", and at the other end of the spectrum, there's a situation where the university may form a new company based on something a faculty member has done...and the company itself will go into business and may at some point in the future end up funding research at the university on its own... another classic kind of relationship is a patenting and licensing relationship, where a university scientist comes up with something new...the university patents it, finds a company that may have actually funded the research...or may not, and licenses the patent...and then sells it on the market, and the university collects royalties.

NEMA: What are some of the things the university gets out of an agreement with a company?

BLUMENTHAL: According to our research, 12% of all the money flowing into universities for life science research comes from industry...and it's good money because it often comes with fewer strings than the federal government money. Industry can bring in new ideas or capabilities that universities don't have in the form of really complicated equipment that's very expensive, and it's hard to buy on a government grant...that industry can purchase. In the relatively rare circumstances where the industry and university working together produce a really profitable product...universities can make some money. The Sloan Kettering hospital in New York City, which came up with a patent that ultimately resulted in a chemical used to raise blood counts in anemic people, especially those who have kidney failure. And they sold that patent for 50 million dollars, which is a nice little piece of change to put into your endowment.

NEMA: What does the future hold...what will these relationships look like ten or twenty years down the road...?

BLUMENTHAL: I think that there will be continued interaction at about the same level in the terms of research relationships. I don't think that they're going to be able to stretch those industry connections larger than they are right now. I do think that there's danger that certain groups within universities or certain universities may get too dependent on industry...or that they will be so eager to attract funds, that they will sacrifice values, that they ought to be protecting.

NEMA: We'll talk again soon with Dr. Blumenthal on the effects of heavy industry funding on university researchers. I'm Steve Girard.

Transcripts:

Week: 554.2 Guest: Dr. David Blumenthal, Health Policy Research/Development Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Topic: Productivity in Research/Industry relationships- Part Two of Two Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: Dr. David Blumenthal of the Policy and Research Development Unit of Massachusetts General Hospital is talking with us...what prompted your recent research on the status of the links between scholarly research and industry..?

BLUMENTHAL: I got interested in it fifteen years ago because Massachusetts General Hospital, at that time formed a big relationship with a big German chemical and pharmaceutical company. And there were actually hearings at which the head of the hospital was asked to come down and testify whether this relationship wasn't going to corrupt Massachusetts General Hospital. And it occurred to me that nobody knew what these relationships caused, resulted in, what their upside or downside was. I do research on policy issues in health and science, so I went about and got some money to study it, and did a first set of studies ten years ago, and have followed it since. On the upside, people thought, "well, scientists are going to get a lot of money from industry, they're going to do new things, there's going to be intellectual exchange with their colleagues in industry, and it's going to be wonderful". And on the down side, people thought that scientists were going to be bought out, that they were going to be recruited away, they weren't going to publish anymore, because they were going to be so secretive. There are elements of truth in both scenarios, and the critical thing for managers and scientists is to try to take advantage of the benefits while avoiding the risks.

NEMA: You surveyed more than 2000 research scholars at 50 universities...what did you find about the elements of the relationships...?

BLUMENTHAL: We looked at the experience of scientists who had relatively small amounts of industry funding...less than a third. Who had moderate amounts, between two thirds and one third of their total research budgets. And who had more than two thirds of their total research budgets from industry. Many of the people who published the most, taught the most, had the most prestigious involvement's in their professions, were the chairmen of departments, worked on federal study sections....those were the people who had a relatively small amount of money from industry. When you got to the people who got a lot of money from industry, they tended to be somewhat less productive... they published less than the people who got smaller amounts,and they published articles that appeared in less prestigious and influential journals. Now, you might say, "well, that's okay, they're probably moving that knowledge out of the university and into industry...and that's really a critical function"...

NEMA: But, in reading your results...they were really not measurably more productive commercially, when you look at their commercial behaviors, their patenting and licensing, whether they start new companies, and whether they've developed products that are on the market. Finding that middle ground...a median involvement with industry seems to provide the most fertile ground for both industry and academia....

BLUMENTHAL: What industry gets out of universities is not all, in most cases, some great new product...what they get is research done really well...and even more, they get access to really smart people, who otherwise they would have no chance to interact with. And they get access to recruitment of young people who are coming through the university system, and they get introduced into a network of ideas and thinking that allows them to compete with the other companies that they have to compete with.

NEMA: Dr. David Blumenthal, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Thanks for joining us...I'm Steve Girard.

 

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