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a posterboard at a conference. But there are problems with this traditional model. “It’s not scalable. It relies too much on good luck, and too much on proximity.” The two parties should start thinking more creatively about how to use social media “to bring people together around those who are looking for innovation, and those who have it.”
Desmond-Hellmann on the major obstacles that get in the way of good academic-industry collaboration:
“The job in industry is to continuously narrow down the degrees of freedom,” Desmond-Hellmann said. What this means is that a drug developer starts a clinical trial with a large number of unknowns and variables, and continually tries to reduce the uncertainty and establish factual information around a drug’s safety and effectiveness profile that will enable it to become a marketed product. An academic’s job is the polar opposite—to continually broaden the degrees of freedom, by asking a question in such a way that it unleashes many more interesting questions. “It’s an eternal quest, and it’s about a curiosity for knowledge,” Desmond-Hellmann said.
This cultural gap “can be bridged,” Desmond-Hellmann said, “but it’s a pretty big impediment.”
Desmond-Hellmann on whether she worries about conflicts of interest getting in the way:
“I do worry. It’s a huge issue for us,” she said. Then again, the university needs to consider it mission of increasing knowledge, training new scientists and physicians, and improving patient care. If the university is serious about improving patient care, it needs to collaborate with industry, which means that conflict of interest issues are something the institution needs to manage.
Desmond-Hellmann also challenged the notion that accepting money from private sources is an inherent conflict of interest. Money from industry, on its own, doesn’t necessarily interfere with the university’s mission. Other motivations—power, titles, prizes, publications, promotions—that matter to academics can each have their own effect on the institution’s mission.
“We need to broaden what we consider conflicts of interest,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “We have to figure them out so patients can benefit from our discoveries.”
Uwe Schoenbeck on the forces driving more interest at Big Pharma in university collaboration:
“The cost of developing new drugs is close to unbearable. We have to change the way we do things,” Schoenbeck said. That includes academia, the FDA, and Big Pharma. Getting more electronic health records is one place where this can start, he said. If you go almost anywhere in the U.S. or China to an automatic teller machine, you can get cash in minutes. Yet if you want to find out what the most recent tests a patient has undergone, even in some of the best medical centers in the U.S., “it’s a nightmare,” Schoenbeck said. “That has to change.”
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