Profs Examine Med School Plan
Two weeks after the announcement of a $30 million Harvard Medical School plan to market the discoveries of faculty members, professors and outside experts seem to be reconciled to the program, believing that sufficient safeguards exist to protect the school's academic integrity.
Under the plan, which was formally established earlier this month, Harvard will solicit approximately $30 million from six to eight corporations and invest the money through a network of affiliated companies. The series of companies will give the University 10 percent of the profits, without Harvard having any control over what research is marketed. Harvard officials said all profits will be invested in further research.
Once the program became publicly known, Loeb University Professor Walter Gilbert '53 and other academics criticized the plan, saying the program's close ties with industry would end up hindering the integrity of the school's academic research.
President Bok and other University officials, however, insisted that there were enough safeguards in the program to prevent the types of abuses that have occurred in previous University ventures with industry and that the program met University guidelines on sponsored research.
The venture originated in June of 1984, when the Medical School decided to begin developing a proposal to create a new source of financial support for so-called "development gap" discoveries, those projects in mid-stream that have been viewed as too applied for government or foundation grants or as too basic for industry.
At an April 26 conference of department heads, a number of professors voiced questions about the ethics and operation of the medical venture. Those questions included the following:
Should clinicians be allowed to participate in the program, since much of the value of their research is derived from the unique illness of the patient? Should pharmeceutical companies be allowed to invest in the plan, since they already have ties to researchers and could use their influence to get a preview of the latest research? Will Harvard's share of the profit be divided equally among research units or go to the most lucrative departments within the Medical School?
After what appears to have been a lengthy discussion and the assurances of Med School Dean Daniel C. Tosteson '44, the department chairmen voted to approve the plan the same day.
Dean of Duke Medical School Boyle G. Graham said this week that the new Medical School venture represents the type of relationship that universities will seek with private industry in the future.
"In essence, it's inevitable that universities and industry are going to come into a closer dialogue," Graham said.
Gilbert and others had speculated that those researchers who participated in the program would receive unfair advantages, such as special consideration in tenure decisions, more laboratory space and more grad students, for bringing in money to the University.
"You have to be concerned that the researcher would be looking for commercial application as a primary goal, you can see how [the program] can get skewed," Graham said. Graham said that such abuses occur when a researcher ends up "just doing contractual work" and neglecting his academic duties.
Graham said, however, that he thought the potential for abuse in the new Harvard program was slim.
"I don't think in a university like Harvard it should be a major concern," Graham said. "Total dollars in itself is not going to give one power."
"In Dean Tosteson, you have extremely enlightened leadership," Graham said. "Corruption of a program is certainly something you don't have to be concerned about with him in command."
Dean of the Division of Applied Sciences Paul C. Martin '52 said in an interview earlier this week that such a program has been considered for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).
"The idea has been raised and not dismissed [among professors]," Martin said. "In principle, I think [the Med School program] has safeguards and might work here [at FAS]."
Martin said, however, that it would be harder to find investors for a similar FAS program because Med School research has more attractive commercial applications than the often theoretical scientific research done at the graduate and post-graduate level. "If people invest, you want to promise them a volume of discoveries per year."
Martin said that such a program would work better if done in colllaboration with other schools, since fewer demands could be made on a single institution.
"That arrangement, if it could work, is even less prone to problems than the Medical School project," Martin said.
Martin said he did not expect the matter to be discussed any time in the near future.