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N Engl J Med. 1996 Feb 8;334(6):368-73.

Relationships between academic institutions and industry in the life sciences--an industry survey.

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  • 1Health Policy Research and Development Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA.



Despite growing acceptance of relationships between academia and industry in the life sciences, systematic, up-to-date information about their extent and the consequences for the parties involved remains scarce. We attempted to collect information about the prevalence, magnitude, commercial benefits, and potential risks of such relationships by surveying a representative sample of life-science companies in the United States to determine their relationships with academic institutions.


We collected data by telephone from May through September 1994 from senior executives of 210 life-science companies (of 306 companies surveyed; response rate, 69 percent). The sample contained all Fortune 500 companies in the fields of agriculture, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals; all international pharmaceutical companies with sales volumes similar to those of the Fortune 500 companies; and a random sample of non-Fortune 500 companies in the life sciences drawn from multiple commercial and noncommercial directories. Both the survey instrument and the survey methods resembled those of our 1984 study of 106 biotechnology companies, allowing us to assess the evolution of relationships between academia and industry over the past decade.


Ninety percent of companies conducting life-science research in the United States had relationships involving the life sciences with an academic institution in 1994. Fifty-nine percent supported research in such institutions, providing an estimated $1.5 billion, or approximately 11.7 percent of all research-and-development funding received that year. The agreements with universities tended to be short-term and to involve small amounts, implying that most such relationships supported applied research or development. Over 60 percent of companies providing support for life-science research in universities had received patents, products, and sales as a result of those relationships. At the same time, the companies reported that their relationships with universities often included agreements to keep the results of research secret beyond the time needed to file a patent. From 1984 to 1994, the involvement of industry with academic institutions has increased, but the characteristics of the relationships have remained remarkably stable.


After more than a decade of sustained interaction, universities and industries seem to have formed durable partnerships in the life sciences, although the relationships may pose greater threats to the openness of scientific communication than universities generally acknowledge. However, industrial support for university research is much smaller in amount than federal support, and companies are unlikely to be able to compensate for sizable federal cutbacks.

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