Daily Californian (UC-Berkeley, CA)
BERKELEY, CA — The University of California likes living on the technological edge. So when California allocated funds for stem cell research as mandated by Proposition 71, UC was one of the first that stood to benefit. With our help, such research could lead to breakthrough drugs for cancer and congenital diseases. But in its haste to see some returns on this endeavor, the state legislature may make a big mistake by adopting provisions of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Patent and Trademark Act.
This federal law was designed to give universities more leeway in taking lab work to market. The act allowed universities to patent federally funded research and license the results to companies, helping to develop their findings for profit.
Bayh-Dohl didn’t exactly break new ground: Universities have always had close relationships with related industries. Professors at some universities even get a day off per week to consult with them.
But Bayh-Dole benefits industry more than it helps universities. The act has changed the way universities conduct research, giving rise to complex corporate relationships. Even now, the stem-cell board that doles out funds cannot give UC Berkeley its grant because of two lawsuits questioning the legality of the board’s authority, while the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights points to possible conflicts of interest. Let’s not forget Chancellor Robert Birgeneau sits on this board and that 13 of the 16 grant recipients have industry ties — us included.
Conflicts of interest are inevitable given the nature of biotech. There’s no guarantee of profit, so it’s difficult to entice companies unless they have significant control over the research. Some even hold veto power over studies. Incorrectly used, they could forbid the publication of negative information on drugs they promote. In a program as young as ours, the last thing we need is compromised research.
What’s more, projects for life-saving drugs could be passed over if the industry prefers developing products to compete with Viagra.
New perscription drugs are almost always very expensive-the goal is to make profit, naturally. But adopting Bayh-Dole’s approach would keep prices unnaturally high. The key is to not give industry in this fledgling science more power than necessary.
Bayh-Dole’s provisions give universities too much monopoly power without effective limits on industry influence. The state will have to keep that in mind if it wants its citizens’ tax dollars to come to good use.