The corporate and scholarly research worlds could learn much from each other: “An Academia-Big Pharma Truce”

from Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, writing in the Wall Street Journal today.


Most Americans are unaware how many great scientists, trained in academia, now work in private pharmaceutical laboratories. A 2010 paper in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery confirmed that the vast majority of pharmaceuticals now in use were discovered in drug-company labs, where a process known as high-throughput screening allows computer analysis of thousands of compounds to determine those with the best activity against certain diseases. Big Pharma pioneered this process in the late 1980s before its use began to expand to academia in the early 2000s.

Once a promising drug has been discovered, it moves first to animal testing and then to human clinical trials. It is here that the corporate and academic worlds must work together. For decades, research funded by pharmaceutical companies has exceeded what the National Institutes of Health spends. According to a 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, of the approximately $100 billion spent in biomedical research in 2007, close to 60% came from the pharmaceutical industry and a little more than 30% from the government. In 2011, the industry spent $39 billion on research in the U.S. while the NIH spent $31 billion. Drug-company-funded clinical trials at major medical centers produce the majority of publications in the medical literature.

A laboratory scientist has many incentives to leave academia and come over to the “dark side” of private industry. The money is better, of course, but the profit motive in well-equipped private labs often leads to an emphasis on creative solutions. One downside: the loss of prestige that goes along with an academic affiliation.

The process of developing a new vaccine or bringing a new device to market is complex and exacting. Manufacturers are generally motivated by profit, and their top scientists operate with a creativity rare among the protocol-heavy, prestige-driven scientists of academia. But both sides share a goal: curing people. Dr. Gottlieb, with his background in clinical medicine and biotechnology, is well-suited to help them do it.


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