. "7 INCENTIVES AND FOCUS IN UNIVERSITY AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH: THE CASE OF SYNTHETIC INSULIN." Sources of Medical Technology Universities and Industry. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1995.
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Sources of Medical Technology: Universities and Industry
The Consequences of Heterogeneous Incentives
Because the research groups faced different incentives, their experimental strategies, as well as their willingness to form interdisciplinary and interinstitutional links, were quite different. In fact, by contrasting researchers with dissimilar incentives, clusters of strategic characteristics can be identified which highlight the manner in which researchers responded to the idiosyncratic set of incentives that they face.
The most salient features of the Genentech strategy were the pressure to achieve expression of insulin quickly (and publicly), the desire to avoid costly regulatory barriers, and the willingness to form an eclectic set of interdisciplinary and interinstitutional links. The decision to pursue chemical synthesis of the gene (rather than cDNA cloning) is an important manifestation of this strategy. Though important scientifically, chemical synthesis "was a chemical challenge, not a biological challenge" (telephone interview with William Rutter, Professor of Biochemistry, University of California, San Francisco, and President, Chiron Corporation, June 14, 1993). More subtly, the type of scientific information revealed by synthesis was qualitatively different (and of less interest to biologists) than that which might be revealed by cDNA cloning. In other words, the very technique chosen by Genentech reveals important insights into their motivations. Further, the decision to pursue chemical synthesis was made easier by Genentech's willingness to cross interdisciplinary and interinstitutional boundaries. Keiichi Itakura's input as an organic chemist increased as a result of Genentech's focus on expressing a particular hormone, insulin. In sum, Genentech's strategy consisted of a distinct cluster of strategic characteristics which, in concert, increased the team's ability to express insulin in bacteria for the purpose of obtaining a royalty contract with Eli Lilly.
In contrast, the academic researchers' strategies were characterized by the importance of performing experiments that provided novel scientific information or techniques. This focus resulted in the use of cDNA methods by the Harvard and UCSF researchers. While the cDNA method provided scientific focus, this experimental strategy forced the academic researchers to overcome significant regulatory barriers. However, these barriers were not insurmountable except when the research required the use of human genetic material. The choice of cDNA strategies highlights the trade-off between scientific and commercial goals: human genetic material was relatively unnecessary for the scientific agenda, but it was paramount for success in the commercial arena. In conjunction with the focus on nonhuman genetic material, the cDNA strategy leveraged the disciplinary focus of these labs: molecular biology and biochemistry. The synthetic process, while "a quick way to get a result" (telephone interview, W. Rutter, 1993), would have required the input of organic chemists such as Itakura or Khorana. The Gilbert and Rutter-Goodman teams chose the insulin project in order to explore the novel techniques and emerging processes of rDNA research,