This Date in UCSF History: Promise and Pitfalls of Industry Collaboration

Friday, April 22, 2022

Originally published on April 26, 2001. The changing nature of the relationship between academia and industry was the subject of the keynote address at the sixth annual Career and Research Day.

Executive Vice Chancellor Zach W. Hall and Assistant Vice Chancellor Christopher T. Scott outlined the recent history of the collaboration between universities and industry and how the future looks, particularly at Mission Bay, during their joint appearance on April 18.

Hall recalled that when he was a graduate student at UCSF in the ‘60s, the idea of going into industry after completing one’s studies was virtually unheard of: “a career in academia was the goal, not industry.”

Back then, the idea that noteworthy science could be done in industry laboratories bordered on the absurd. Taking a job in industry in those days, Hall said, was “the equivalent of taking a teaching job at East South Dakota State.”

These attitudes began to change in the 70s, Hall said. A major milestone came in 1979, when UCSF faculty member Herb Boyer co-founded Genentech.

“This created an explosion,” Hall said, stimulating “tremendous discussion” on campus of the proper role of universities and industry. Another milestone was the passage of the Bayh-Dole bill of 1980, which encouraged university researchers to get into industry.

The legislation encouraged universities to patent their technology discoveries and license them to private industry. This set the stage for the tech boom.

Hall said that UCSF faculty has, directly or indirectly, been involved in the creation of some 60 companies. Once scorned, private industry is now the source of much scientific discovery.

“A lot of good science takes place in industry now,” Hall said, noting the research landscape is much richer now than 40 years ago, with work being done both on university campuses and industrial labs. Scott noted the collaboration between industry and universities has led to tremendous changes and poses significant challenges for the future.

But there is little doubt of the significance of the changes: there are now some 1,500 biotech firms employing more than 150,000 workers.

He pointed out the partnership between academia and industry brings mixed blessings to the universities.

On the positive side, the collaboration brings in revenue for universities, provides opportunity for students, and boosts scientific research.

The downside, however, is a conflict of time and interest, pressures of confidentiality, and a perception that industry is buying academia.

Scott listed some of the areas of “fundamental tension” between universities and industry. Industries are driven by a profit motive, want to keep shareholders happy and protect intellectual property, and thus prefer to keep discoveries confidential.

In academia, on the other hand, there has been a traditional freedom to publish discoveries and discuss them openly and to disseminate intellectual property.

Furthermore, public universities such as UCSF answer to trustees and the public: industry’s profit motive does not apply.

Notwithstanding these 3reas of concern, Scott pointed out the impact of the linkage of academia and industry has been tremendous: In 1999 and 2000, 14,000 patents came from discoveries in university laboratories, patents that created 300,000 jobs.

The question, Scott said, is “not whether the relationship (between industry and academia) should take place, but how.”

He called for “mutual respect and understanding of each other’s mission,” pointing out that it is increasingly common for people to move back and forth between industry and academia. Mission Bay is seen as the next step in the collaboration.

Both Hall and Scott left little doubt of the goal: to emulate the success of Silicon Valley.

Many similar elements are in place: a prestigious university (Stanford) located in the heart of an area teeming with technology firms.

The interplay between Stanford and those firms fueled the tech revolution in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

By developing a setting where UCSF researchers are working in close proximity to biotech industries, Mission Bay promises to take the collaboration between academia and industry to even greater heights.