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Special Communication
January 2, 2002

Medical Innovation and Institutional Interdependence: Rethinking University-Industry Connections

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: International Center for Health Outcomes and Innovation Research (INCHOIR), College of Physicians and Surgeons and School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY (Dr Gelijns); and Partners Health Care System and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass (Dr Thier).

JAMA. 2002;287(1):72-77. doi:10.1001/jama.287.1.72

University-industry research collaborations have been key to a continued high degree of technological innovation in medicine. Recently, however, critical questions have been posed about the potential negative aspects of highly productive means of encouraging innovation. Concerns center on blurring roles between academic research and the commercial world and the implications of universities' newfound readiness to benefit financially from their intellectual property. The roles of both parties are often inadequately captured by considering members of university faculties as single-mindedly devoted to the advancement of fundamental knowledge and industrial firms as mere developers of university research. Rather, medical innovation depends on extensive interactions between universities and industry, with knowledge and technology transfer flowing in both directions. These interactions have had important public health and economic benefits. Yet, there is a risk to the university-industry relationship if the cultural and ethical principles of one partner overwhelm those of the other. Therefore, universities and industry need to maximize the upsides of collaboration and minimize the downsides by means of internal organizational change as well as formation of new models of collaboration, such as intellectual partnerships or virtual research organizations. This article reviews the numerous institutional patterns of innovation and draws implications for organizational and public policies.