University-industry partnerships: a matter for cautious aggressiveness

Emory President James Wagner was keynote speaker last week at the 2011 Academic & Industry Intersection Conference sponsored by Georgia Bio and the Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute (ACTSI). The conference focused on ethical issues in translating academic research into commercial drugs and medical devices.

Wagner pointed out the great power these relationships hold for the service of humanity, provided they are properly structured and managed. He recommended “cautious aggressiveness” by both universities and industry.

We should incorporate ethical considerations into our partnerships so that the practice of ethics is not “restrictive and paralyzing, but instead becomes part of the design criteria motivating our success, not restricting it.

Wagner is co-chair of President Obama’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. The commission lists five principles with broad application for biomedical translational research: public beneficence; responsible stewardship; intellectual freedom and responsibility; democratic deliberation; and justice and fairness.

He emphasized that researchers should guard against personal conflicts of interest and ensure against any compromise of research objectivity. But he cautioned against the temptation to value the process of ethics more highly than the ethical principles themselves, and the temptation to substitute compliance for true ethical practice.

Is it possible that we and our partners have come to place too much faith in documented protocols, and that excessive regulatory burden may give investigators a false sense of absolution of their own responsibility to exercise judgment and ethical practice? he asks.

“How does that square with the moral imperative to bring new knowledge that can benefit individuals and society to practice as soon as possible? Wouldn’t it be unethical to withhold the application of such knowledge if it is known to be able to do good?”

Ethical practice should not be an afterthought, Wagner emphasized, but instead a deeply understood and critical part of design and protocol and procedure — where the exercise of expert judgment goes beyond regulatory compliance.

“A challenge to all of our universities is to advance an ethics education that will bring heightened abilities to our investigators and their partners with the goal…of establishing even more trusting partnerships that can bring technology more safely and swiftly…from the minds of creative investigators, to the laboratory bench, to the manufacturing assembly line, to the vendor’s shelves, and to the bedside.”

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Holly Korschun

Director, Research Communications hkorsch@emory.edu 404-727-3990 Office 404-686-5500 Pager (ID 14501) 404-227-1243 Mobile

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