Academic/pharma matches made in biotech heaven…mostly

Nature News discusses the growing ties between the pharmaceutical industry and academia. On the surface, it's a match made in drug heaven. Big Pharma needs the collaboration to freshen up its research pipeline, and in an age of tightening federal and state budgets, academic labs could really use the cash infusion from pharmaceutical companies. And when it works, it works well.

But the article discusses a few situations where there's trouble in paradise. Mark Pepys, a professor of medicine at University College London who is collaborating with London-based GlaxoSmithKline talks about his experiences with Roche back in the 1990s. Industry needs secrecy and it tends to change its research focus abruptly. So, when Roche abruptly ended its collaboration with his team, Pepys faced a long and costly battle to get back the IP rights to a compound he developed. Later, Roche agreed to work with him again, and again ended the collaboration abruptly.

"It was a very expensive and tedious process that has delayed the drug by about ten years," he tells Nature News "And the clock on the patent is ticking."

Kenneth Kaitin, director of the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development in Boston, paints the dilemma in broader strokes. "My big fear is that we're going to create a polarization within academic centers," he says. "There will be those that partner with industry and in some cases will be looked on more negatively by their academic peers, and those that would never partner with industry because they feel that betrays their academic purity."

But, in the end, the positives appear to outweigh the negatives if the goal is to find a way to develop basic research into real clinical results. Questions of conflict of interest need to be dealt with, of course, along with other issues that come along with accepting money with strings attached. (What if the results in the lab are not quite what the pharma company wanted, and are quietly shelved?) For his part, Pepys says that despite his problems with Roche, he believes in these kinds of partnerships. Without Roche, he tells Nature News, he would not have been able to develop a compound that could soon be ready for trail in Alzheimer's patients. "Nobody except big pharma can make a medicine effectively," he says.

- read the whole article in Nature News