Prompted by the fear that money from the biotechnology boom will divert professors from their academic pursuits, Harvard President Derek Bok today offered a list of possible rules to govern deals between universities and biotechnology companies.
At a time when universities are facing cutbacks in federal grants and contracts, many are accepting corporate money in their place, either through individual professors or through grants to the university.
Universities might accept corporate funds without compromising their academic goals, Bok suggested, by considering some of the following rules:
* Denying exclusive licenses (on university patents) to a firm in which a university researcher has a significant interest.
* Prohibiting a professor from simultaneously holding stock in a company, being a consultant to it and getting grants from it for research. "When you pile all those relations together," Bok said, "you create a far larger incentive for the scientist to work for the firm rather than the university."
* Forbidding professors from holding substantial blocks of stock in a company that might benefit from the professor's research.
"There is no doubt about the key question," Bok said. "Where do the primary loyalties of the professor lie?" He said he feared that the goals of academic research might become secondary to those of commercial profit.
In arrangements in which the university receives money from a biotechnology company, Bok said that as a rule the university should not give exclusive licenses to exploit the product to one company.
He also suggested universities should not accept partnership in the formation of a company that involves the university's own professors as company officers.
In the biotechnology boom of the last six years, universities have accepted corporate funds in return for several things: exclusive licenses to exploit commercially the work of professors, the right to have company scientists trained by top university scientists and to have general access to the top university laboratories.
Professors individually have become consultants to biotechnology companies sometimes for very large fees, some have been given stock in the companies, or company funds to carry out their university research.
The fear of members of the academic community is that the university and its professors will focus on commercially profitable work instead of remaining free to pursue work of purely basic academic interest.
Some biotechnology company executives in the audience disagreed that restrictive rules are necessary.
"Universities will lose some of their best people to industry if the lines are drawn too tightly," said Harold Werner of Johnson & Johnson.