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[SANET-MG] old saying "if you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas"
The report below deals with academic corruption at Berkeley. Will those
who participate in blatant conflicts of interest be punished? Not very
Nature 430, 598 (05 August 2004); doi:10.1038/430598b
Biotech funding deal judged to be 'a mistake' for Berkeley
Universities should avoid large-scale partnerships with industry, says
[SAN DIEGO] Large-scale partnerships between industry and universities
ought to be avoided completely, according to the author of an external
report investigating such a deal at the University of California at
Berkeley. Although the arrangement provided cash that energized
research, the report says, it created conflicts of interest within the
The report was commissioned by the university's academic senate and
conducted by Lawrence Busch, an agricultural sociologist at Michigan
State University, East Lansing. It looks in detail at a controversial
deal struck in 1998 between the university and a Swiss firm now known as
Syngenta. The five-year agreement saw Syngenta contribute US$25 million
to facilities and the funding of faculty at the university's department
of plant and microbial biology, in exchange for the right to capitalize
on their discoveries. The deal ended last year; Syngenta officials say
it was abandoned owing to a change in company strategy.
Following their two-year review, Busch and his eight colleagues conclude
that the deal did not compromise academic research as many scientists
had feared. But it did produce institutional conflicts of interest,
Busch says, contributing to the denial of tenure to a faculty member who
was critical of the deal . It also failed to produce as many patent
benefits as originally hoped.
Busch hopes the report will lead to a broader debate over
academic–industrial relations at all US universities. "I think it is
high time for serious discussions of what the devil we want our
universities to be. Berkeley is a good place to start," says Busch. "I
don't think you should hermetically insulate a university from the
private sector. But this deal was a mistake." Most university–industry
projects fund specific researchers or scientific groups rather than an
entire academic unit, as the Berkeley pact did, notes Busch.
When the deal in question was initially announced (with Novartis, whose
agriculture business became Syngenta), it was so loathed by students and
scientists at the university that demonstrators threw a pie at the
officials announcing it. There was a widespread perception that the
Syngenta deal "compromised the mission of the university", says Busch.
The academic senate pushed for and won university funding to conduct a
$225,000 analysis of the deal.
Commissioning an independent report on such an issue is an unusual move,
says Sheldon Krimsky, a philosopher at Tufts University, Massachusetts,
who studies academic institutions. If it were not for the academic
senate's concerns, certain criticisms might never have come to light, he
says. Berkeley's administrators conducted an internal review of the deal
two years ago; they concluded that the Syngenta pact was a good deal.
The Busch report highlights how the money injected into the university
did make a difference: 26 members of the faculty received financial
support from Syngenta, with individual totals ranging from $60,000 to
$200,000. And, during the five-year period, the department made 51
potentially patentable discoveries, 12 of which emerged from
Syngenta-funded research. But, out of 20 patents produced, Syngenta is
pursuing research on only six, and no licence agreements with the
university have been negotiated for any of those.
The university's administrative leaders declined to be interviewed, but
the provost Paul Gray issued a statement saying the report is under
review. Collaborations are important to the university's mission, the
statement says, but "the appropriateness and structure" of such
agreements should be examined. Syngenta officials did not respond to
Nature's request for an interview.
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