Monday, July 10, 2006

Paul Jacobs: How profits, research mix at Stanford

The Mercury-News discloses the results of six months of research by Paul Jacobs on entrepreneurial activities of faculty members in the Med School at Stanford.

An interesting component of the story pertains to Dr. Irving L. Weissman.

[Weissman] finally concluded in late 1988 that he would have to start a company. He went to Kennedy, Stanford's president at the time.

A biologist who is now editor in chief of Science magazine, Kennedy had reservations. ``I didn't want faculty wandering from their homes on campus into labs thinking about money in their next offshore venture,'' he recalled.

But Weissman convinced him that he could separate his work at the company from his work in the lab. A faculty committee would look at his NIH grants every year to see, Weissman said, ``if I was starting to slant my grants in favor of topics relevant to the company.'' He and Kennedy agreed Stanford would not take shares in the company, avoiding a financial conflict for the university -- a policy later abandoned.

There's an interesting quote:

"You ought to be able to do whatever experiment along this line with transparency so everybody knows at every step of the way what your involvements are, what your bias might be, so you can move it forward," he [Weissman] said, referring to scientific progress. "But I think it's morally reprehensible not to move it forward."

Weissman had previously talked about morality:

Weissman told a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 2004 that those “who participate in the banning or enforced delays of biomedical research that could lead to the saving of lives and the amelioration of suffering are directly and morally responsible for the lives made worse or lost.


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