MSU group reviews Berkeley venture into brave new science funding world

logy and DNA database on plant genomics. For its part, Novartis was given first rights to negotiate licenses to patents on a proportion of the discoveries made in the department and received two seats on a five-member committee set up to select research projects.

The deal struck several nerves.

Concerns were raised about the influence of industry money on academic research, on the shaping of research priorities and especially on maintaining what many see as the most precious commodity in academe: Credibility.

"I can understand why many want to see products from universities turned into profitable products, but if it does it at the risk of destroying the integrity of the university, essentially what you are doing is killing the goose that lays the golden egg," Busch said.

The Berkeley-Novartis partnership also played out in uncharted waters. Large-scale industry partnerships aren't unheard of in the natural sciences, but are more common in the medical field. Large grants aren't unusual, but typically go to individual researchers or research teams. The wholesale funding of a department was revolutionary and, Busch said, done quickly without proper safeguards.

"It gives the impression that the whole department has been bought that the university is captive of the funding agency," Busch said. "If you want to find out what's going on in the biotech industry would you go to department that is the recipient of substantial largesse by one biotech company? This doesn't go over well with lots of people. "

The group, experts in sociology, plant science, intellectual property and higher education administration, conducted the independent study requested by Berkeley's academic senate

Among its recommendations:

  • Avoid industry agreements that involve complete academic units or large groups of researchers.
  • Reassess the broad implications of conflicts of interest that stretch beyond researchers

Contact: Lawrence Busch
Michigan State University

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