Science Research Conflicts Targeted

News Feature

In 1993, California's Scripps Research Institute found itself in some hot water.

The institute had drawn national scrutiny--and a Congressional inquiry--for a 10-year, $300 million agreement that would have given Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The right to examine all inventions from Scripps and to license almost half of them.

For many, the deal gave Sandoz, a private firm, too much control over the the scientists and technical publications of Scripps. Because the institutional conflicts of interest were too great, the partnership was eventually scaled back, and $100 million was cut from the agreement.

As these events unfolded, then-provost Jerry R. Green took a look at Harvard's practices and saw potential--too much potential--for similar institutional conflicts of interest.

With an eye toward Scripps' problems, he formed an ad hoc committee to make recommendations to bring Harvard's science policy into the 1990s.


And with the recent release of the committee's report, Green believes that will soon happen.

"This was one of my highest priorities, to make sure that Harvard was prepared for what I thought the future would bring," says Green, who resigned as provost in 1994 and is now Leverett professor of interfaculty teaching and research. "We just didn't have any [policies]. What we have was piece-by-piece, nothing at the University-wide level."

Green describes the report's recommendations as modest in nature. But he believes the report, now being circulated throughout the University, will help initiate an ongoing examination of the relationship between Harvard scientists and their sponsors.

"The report is intended to be kind of prospective in nature," says Green. "It's to set the tone and prepare the University for eventualities that haven't happened, to be prepared."

And the report also taps into an area untrodden by the University in the past, committee members say.

"Here Harvard's been going for hundreds of years and one never had a unified cross-University policy on a major issue of this sort," says Edgar Haber, a committee member who is Blout professor of biological sciences at the School of Public Health (SPH).

The Growing Partnership With Industry

The report is especially relevant, committee members say, as university science research becomes more heavily reliant on industrial funding.

A report issued recently by the National Science Foundation found that industrial sponsorship of research in U.S. universities grew from $236 million in 1980 to $1.2 billion in 1993.

This nearly six-fold increase made corporate sponsored research at universities the fastest growing component of all research expenditures in the nation.

At Harvard, the growth has been steady, but somewhat less dramatic than in the nation as a whole. Still, according to University figures, total non-federal sponsored research nearly doubled to $103.5 million between 1987 and 1993.