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Letters |

Partnerships Between Universities and Industry—Reply

Samuel O. Thier, MD; Annetine C. Gelijns, PhD
JAMA. 2002;287(11):1398-1400. doi:10.1001/jama.287.11.1395.
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In Reply: Interactions between the academic and industrial research enterprise in medicine are not just recent phenomena but have existed since the early 20th century. In recent years, however, the diversity and number of these connections have increased, raising fundamental questions about the role of both partners in the innovation process. According to Mr Ehrle, the current interface will lead to a "metastatic ethical meltdown." We believe that Ehrle's view ignores the main thrust of our argument. First, the risks of university-industry interactions are indeed important and require ongoing monitoring and debate. However, this debate needs to be informed by insight into the current division of labor between organizational partners. The traditional and familiar answer—academic faculty generate fundamental knowledge that industry in turn develops and markets—is simplistic and ignores the extensive flow of knowledge and technology that occurs in both directions throughout each stage of the innovation process. Second, and related to this, university-industry interactions have important public health and economic benefits. It is therefore important that society, and medical school and hospital leadership in particular, consider how they can maximize the upsides of collaboration while minimizing the downsides. "Balancing risks against benefits" is part of this process, not a contradictory position. A nuanced debate on these issues, rather than absolutist stances, can help shape the university-industry interface in years to come to optimize medical progress and benefit the public.


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