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The Government Role in Civilian Technology: Building a New Alliance
tween these sectors. Another potential problem, according to workshop participants, is conflict of interest. Policies intended to address real or perceived conflicts of interest, whether at the federal or the university level, may make it more difficult for industry and academia to maintain close ties in the future.
Participants pointed out that as investors increasingly focus on anticipated returns to investment in biotechnology, the flow of venture capital to the industry is slowing. Although this may simply reflect the maturity of the biotechnology industry, it may force some firms to reduce their levels of basic research funding and, as a result impair long-term competitive advantages. Participants noted that firms with access to capital markets and government research support, or those that operate under reduced regulatory scrutiny and transparent conflict of interest guidelines, would benefit.
Industry Strategies for Biotechnology Transfer
Representatives from the biotechnology industry discussed a number of strategies to encourage technology transfer. For example, many firms have established scientific advisory boards, whose members are drawn at least in part from academia. Not only do these advisors provide scientific expertise, they also are a link between the firms and university research laboratories. Other steps taken by the biotechnology industry that directly or indirectly result in technology transfer include the following:
Using CRADAs: Involvement with federal laboratories is one method of leveraging R&D funds. In some instances, firms have calculated that problems associated with CRADA are less important than access to research conducted in federal laboratories, one participant at the workshop explained. Several commercially successful products are the result of CRADAs, including the AIDS drugs AZT (azidothymidine) and DDI, and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-antibody tests. Other benefits of collaborating with federal laboratories include access to expensive state-of-the-art equipment and machinery, as well as technical assistance from federal researchers.
Licensing: Several participants at the workshop expressed the view that product licensing should occur at or as close as possible to the time of a breakthrough. Waiting for patents, for the determination of all possible uses or even for the complete understanding of a new technology, can result in loss of potential returns. Biotechnology firms must be conscious of the needs and interests of academic collaborators when developing licensing strategies. Royalty reimbursement and technology-sharing arrangements can speed up the process of bringing an advanced technology to market by as much as five years, according to one participant.