Sunday, March 13, 2011

Academy and industry growing the science pie

Like anyone who has worked in the commercial biotechnology science industry I have also spent time in academic science research in graduate school. There is definitely some rift between the two worlds of science. I find industry often doesn't know what is going on in nearby academic science centers, and academic science centers often don't want them to know because they think industry will steal their ideas just when they start working (There could be some truth to this.). The two science worlds should work closer together to grow the science pie.

The government invests in academic research to improve health, improve the environment, improve lives and stimulate the economy and stimulating the economy is getting top billing now. Government investment is a fixed amount allocated each year. Academic scientists write grants to compete for their share of the pie. When one scientist wins another loses. Industry starts with basic science and applies it to problems (like diseases) to make products and sell them increasing the amount of money coming into science, growing the pie.

Academic scientists can work on basic science questions with a long horizon before commercialization. Industry has to work on questions with a shorter time to market. The two will work on slightly different complimentary projects.

Industry can benefit from academic research opening up new areas for product development. Industry can provide academic researchers more places to pursue a science career when we finish graduate school. If every graduate stayed in academic research, grant competition would get even more fierce than it already is (and it is fierce). Industry could fund projects as they get closer to having commercial potential. I think companies will benefit most in the long run by not burning their bridges with academic research centers. Industry can provide funding (or licensing fees) to projects of interest and by being involved in academic research will know what new basic science is coming and start thinking about how to commercialize it. With the current and most likely increasing cumulative government budget deficit scientists may not always be able to rely on even the current level of government funding making it important for all scientists to get academy and industry to work together to grow their own science pie.

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