Q&A: UCSF’s Jeff Bluestone on the Tricky Balancing Act Between Academia and Industry

3/10/11Follow @xconomy

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that industry partnerships are not for every faculty member. We don’t try to force any kind of effort that a faculty member doesn’t feel comfortable doing. Our tech transfer office is very sensitive to the needs of the faculty. If they are looking for a company to partner with, that’s great, we’ll try to facilitate and help. But the way I look at it, maybe that’s 10 to 15 percent of the faculty, but there may be 30 to 40 percent of the faculty that want to continue to do their fundamental research in a discovery-based way, and make their impact by publishing. We certainly want to support that part of the UCSF mission without any constraints. Because we come to this with a core set of principles, we have been able to keep the concerns of our faculty to a minimum, but also, our partnerships with industry are stronger. Everybody knows what they are coming to the partnership with, and nobody is feeling they got hamstrung by the partnership.

X: Who worked out this format for partnerships? Is this a collaborative effort between you and Sue?

JB: When I first started this job last spring, I talked to Sue quite a bit about what we were trying to accomplish in the partnerships. I was very concerned that we make sure we do it right. We can’t afford to do these things glibly. They do have impact.

Sue has been very supportive, and understands our responsibilities as a public institution to serve underserved populations, to provide patient care, and to translate our biomedical discoveries into therapies that will help people. With that core understanding, she and I talked quite a bit, and I sat with my team and said ‘OK, what are the key principles in any agreement that we have to make sure we protect?’ And we’ve come up with these underlying statements that make sure we protect certain things, while at the same time, being as industry-friendly and cooperative and collaborative as possible.

X: UCSF has obviously had a lot of success securing federal research grants, and philanthropy, but I wonder how important these industry agreements are to the institution financially.

JB: It’s fair to say there are a lot of challenges we all have now, with how to support the efforts in academic medical centers. There is pressure on research dollars. There is pressure on philanthropy. There is pressure on clinical income. So we are constantly looking to diversify the portfolio. But I must say that I don’t personally see the driver for these partnerships as money. I think that’s been historically an academic failure. The failure has been to look at industry partners as the cash cow that will support undirected, unrestricted research, and in five years when it goes away, we’ll just find another foil to get money from.

I see industry partnerships now being driven by opportunities to do better research, different kinds of research, to allow investigators who want to drive their science to clinical intervention and through drug development. That’s really the major driver. Having said that, of course, there are financial elements. I certainly expect the in-kind contributions—of being able to have access to certain kinds of industry infrastructure—will be big. There will also be some financial benefits which I hope will allow us to invest in the institution and to be able to continue to grow and enhance our fundamental research effort. That’s a commitment we have to our faculty. We will not turn into a fee-for-service enterprise for pharmaceutical companies. We are going to retain … Next Page »

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