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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Nov 12;93(23):12709-16.

Star scientists and institutional transformation: patterns of invention and innovation in the formation of the biotechnology industry.

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  • 1Department of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles 90095-1484, USA.


The most productive ("star") bioscientists had intellectual human capital of extraordinary scientific and pecuniary value for some 10-15 years after Cohen and Boyer's 1973 founding discovery for biotechnology [Cohen, S., Chang, A., Boyer, H. & Helling, R. (1973) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 70, 3240-3244]. This extraordinary value was due to the union of still scarce knowledge of the new research techniques and genius and vision to apply them in novel, valuable ways. As in other sciences, star bioscientists were very protective of their techniques, ideas, and discoveries in the early years of the revolution, tending to collaborate more within their own institution, which slowed diffusion to other scientists. Close, bench-level working ties between stars and firm scientists were needed to accomplish commercialization of the breakthroughs. Where and when star scientists were actively producing publications is a key predictor of where and when commercial firms began to use biotechnology. The extent of collaboration by a firm's scientists with stars is a powerful predictor of its success: for an average firm, 5 articles coauthored by an academic star and the firm's scientists result in about 5 more products in development, 3.5 more products on the market, and 860 more employees. Articles by stars collaborating with or employed by firms have significantly higher rates of citation than other articles by the same or other stars. The U.S. scientific and economic infrastructure has been particularly effective in fostering and commercializing the bioscientific revolution. These results let us see the process by which scientific breakthroughs become economic growth and consider implications for policy.

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