A new partnership between Johns Hopkins University and the biotech company MedImmune is raising pointed questions about potential conflicts of interest.
Johns Hopkins says the program is the first of its kind in the nation, a joint effort to train graduate students for biomedical careers. But some academics worry the program, though small, could erode academic independence.
“The mission and culture of these two institutions are vastly different, one is academic, with emphasis on scholarship and teaching; the other is business, with emphasis on production and marketing,” Jerome Kassirer, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, wrote in an email.
The Johns Hopkins-MedImmune Scholars will have two research mentors, one at the company, which is the Gaithersburg research arm of pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, and one at Hopkins. There will be courses co-taught by company scientists. The program is jointly funded and designed by MedImmune and Hopkins, which refused to disclose the details of the financial relationship.
Eric Campbell, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said the pharmaceutical industry has historically shown a bias toward publishing results that are commercially favorable to their products. “Whether students will develop those practices as a result of being involved, and how that will translate — that is concerning,” he said.
Peter Espenshade, associate dean for graduate biomedical education at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said those concerns and others had been addressed. The program was “vetted quite thoroughly through the whole university system and people interested in conflict of interest,” he said.
Graduate students in the schools of medicine and engineering will apply this year to fill five slots in the spring of 2017.