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Fishing Downstream

Academia and Uncle Sam want to capture more value from their inventions. It won’t be easy.

Universities and government labs are great at producing basic research and bright ideas but are lousy at turning data into products. For years, the public sector, through technology-transfer departments, has looked to the private sector to create new companies. Although industry has more experience than the public sector in developing products, it fails more often than it succeeds in bringing them to market. Worse, industry is highly selective about what to risk its time and resources on; rarely, if ever, does it take a chance on drugs for diseases that afflict the few or the poor, and that offer scant return on investment.

These drawbacks, combined with the desire among university and government labs for a larger stake in their inventions, have prompted a growing number of public institutions to say the time has come to “expand their franchise” into drug development. One outcome is that the National Institutes of Health has created a molecular library screening initiative to encourage more applied research. It has also set up a series of “translational” medicine centers around the country.


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