ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  2 November 2000

BRIDE  OF  NOVARTIS  -  The Kept University and 'a poster child for  biotech'

Various excerpts from 'The Kept University', a long but rewarding article on the corporate take over of US academia, particularly in the area of biotech, and its consequences.

The US model, the article notes, is being carefully copied around the world. All the corporations want in return is unprecedented control over the creation and commercialization of knowledge!

First to illustrate something of the the bizarre resulting distortion of science and economics that is occurring, here are a couple of excerpts from a recent press item putting into context biotech university research at Davis and elsewhere in California (The Kept Uni focuses particularly on Berkeley).
*  *  *
California Leads Biotech Crop Research - by Jennifer Coleman, Associated Press Writer
APO -1 November 2000

California researchers are in the forefront of agricultural biotechnology, but the commercial use of genetically modified crops is sparse in the state compared with the widespread use in the Midwest.

"That's kind of the paradox,"said Kent Bradford, director of the seed biotechnology center at the
University of California, Davis.

UC Davis officials estimate that within the nine-campus system there are 200 invention disclosures, the first step toward a patent, on  agricultural biotechnology. About half of those are from UC Davis, said school spokeswoman Pat Bailey.

The international environmental group Greenpeace warned last  week that if California farmers jump into genetically  modified crops, it could harm the state's $26.8 billion agriculture economy.... The result, [Jim Tischer, director of the Davis-based Community Alliance with Family Farmers] said, would be a glut of genetically modified products with no place to sell them.

California has a reputation for  organic growing, which comprises a good portion of that  $6.6 billion industry nationwide, he said.

Bradford, a professor of vegetable crops at UC Davis [said] "We're behind the curve...

Most of the  crops that scientists have tinkered with are geared to making life easier for farmers, not consumers, Kjelstrom said. "There are advances in herbicide-tolerant lettuce, but the industry isn't real excited about that," she said.

"They were hoping for something like golden rice that has increased vitamin A -- a poster child for biotechnology."
*  *  *.
To accompany industry's would-be "poster child for biotechnology", here's a chilling example from "The Kept Uni' of how the corporate finance pouring into biotech is undermining the public good and causing major economic harm which has global implications, including for those very poorer countries that industry aims to exploit through its 'poster child' style biotechpropaganda:

"Molecular biology and genetic engineering have clearly risen as the preferred approach to solving our problems, and that's where the resources are going. New buildings have gone up, and these departments are expanding, while the organismic areas of science -- which emphasize
a more ecological approach -- are being downsized" says Dahlstan.

Dahlsten once chaired Berkeley's world-renowned Division of Biological Control. Today that division, along with the Department of Plant Pathology and more than half of all faculty positions in entomology, are gone -- in part, many professors believe, because there are no profits in such work. "You can't patent the natural organisms and ecological understanding used in biological control," Andy Gutierrez, a Berkeley entomologist, explains. "However, if you look at public benefit, that
division provided billions of dollars annually to the state of California and the world." In one project Gutierrez worked on, he helped to halt the spread of a pest that threatened to destroy the cassava
crop, a food staple for 200 million people in West Africa.

The online version of this article appears in four parts at:

*****NB The online version has a lot of links to related articles*****

EXCERPTS from 'The Kept University' by Eyal Press and Jennifer Washburn
in Volume 285, No. 3 of The Atlantic Monthly, pages 39-54.

Commercially sponsored research is putting at risk the paramount value of higher education -- disinterested inquiry. Even more alarming, the authors argue, universities themselves are behaving more and more like for-profit companies

IN the fall of 1964 a twenty-one-year-old Berkeley undergraduate named Mario Savio climbed the steps of Sproul Hall and denounced his university for bending over backwards to "serve the need of American industry." Savio, the leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, accused the university of functioning as "a factory that turns out a certain product needed by industry" rather than serving as the conscience and a critic of society.

To the modern ear this sixties rhetoric may sound outdated. To many people in the academic world,
however, Savio's words ring truer today than ever. Although our national conversation about higher education remains focused on issues of diversity and affirmative action, nothing provoked more debate on many college campuses last year than the growing ties between universities and business -- and nowhere was the debate livelier than at Berkeley.

On the afternoon of April 13, a radiant day last spring, the Berkeley campus hardly looked like a site of protest. Students lay on green lawns, soaking in the sunshine. But inside Room 60 of Evans Hall, a
concrete building on the northern edge of campus, the lights were dim and the atmosphere tense.

There two dozen faculty members, many of them professors in the College of Natural Resources, had gathered to present the disquieting results of a newly released faculty.  The focus of the survey was a controversial agreement that Berkeley had signed in November of 1998 with , a Swiss pharmaceutical giant and producer of genetically engineered crops. Under the terms of the agreement Novartis will give Berkeley $25 million to fund basic research in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, one of four departments within the CNR.

In exchange for the $25 million, Berkeley grants Novartis first right to negotiate licenses on roughly a third of the department's discoveries -- including the results of research funded by state and federal sources as well as by Novartis. It also grants the company unprecedented representation -- two of five seats -- on the department's research committee, which determines how the money is spent.

That the university had the backing of a private company was hardly unusual. That a single corporation would be providing one third of the research budget of an entire department at a public university had sparked an uproar. Shortly after the agreement was signed, a newly formed graduate-student group, circulated a petition blasting the Novartis deal for standing "in direct conflict with our mission as a public university."

The Daily Californian, Berkeley's student newspaper, published a five-part series on the growing privatization of the university, and a coalition of public-interest groups sent a letter to Berkeley's chancellor, Robert Berdahl, charging that the alliance "would disqualify a leading intellectual center from the ranks of institutions able to provide the kind of research -- free from vested interest" that
is the hallmark of academic life.

Meanwhile, the College of Natural Resources, headed by Dean Gordon Rausser, sent a message to all professors urging them not to speak to the press and to direct any questions to the university's public-relations office. Many viewed this as a hush order.

"We are here to discuss the position of the faculty," Ignacio Chapela, a professor of microbial ecology, announced as the April 13 meeting began. Chapela, who was then the chairman of the college's executive committee, a faculty governing body, snapped on an overhead projector to display the results of the survey, and declared that the Novartis deal had left the CNR "deeply divided." While 41 percent of the faculty respondents supported the Novartis agreement as signed, more than 50 percent believed that it would have a "negative" or "strongly negative" effect
on academic freedom. Roughly half believed that the agreement would erode Berkeley's commitment to "public good research," and 60 percent feared that it would impede the free exchange of ideas among scientists within the college -- one of Chapela's chief concerns.

"When I came to Berkeley," Chapela explained to us after the meeting, "the people who brought me here and who were my closest colleagues were largely in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. Now I know that anything I say to these people can be turned around and handed over
to Novartis. So I just can't talk to them anymore. If I have a good idea, I'm not going to just give it away."

Chapela, like many critics of the deal, is hardly a confirmed opponent of university-industry relations. Before coming to Berkeley, he told us, he spent three years in Switzerland working for none other than Novartis -- then named Sandoz -- and he continues to have a relationship with the company. "I'm not opposed to individual professors' serving as consultants to industry," he said. "If something goes wrong, it's their reputation that's at stake. But this is different. This deal institutionalizes the university's relationship with one company, whose interest is profit. Our role should be to serve the public good."

GORDON Rausser, the chief architect of the Novartis deal, believes that faculty concerns about the alliance reflect ignorance about both the Novartis deal and the changing economic realities of higher education..

Rausser's view is more and more the norm, as academic administrators throughout the country turn to the private sector for an increasing percentage of their research dollars, in part because public support for education has been dropping. Although the federal government still supplies most of the funding for academic research (it provided $14.3 billion, or 60 percent, in 1997, the latest year for which figures are available), the rate of growth in federal support has fallen steadily over the past twelve years, as the cost of doing research, particularly in the cutting-edge fields of computer engineering and molecular biology, has risen sharply. State spending has also declined. Berkeley
Chancellor Robert Berdahl says that California now supplies just 34 percent of Berkeley's overall budget, as compared with 50 percent twelve years ago, and he claims that other state universities have suffered similar cuts.

Meanwhile, corporate giving is on the rise, growing from $850 million in 1985 to $4.25 billion less than a decade later -- and increasingly the money comes with strings attached. One marked trend is a boom in industry-endowed chairs...

In rushing to forge alliances with industry, universities are not just responding to economic necessity -- they are also capitalizing on a change in federal law, implemented nearly two decades ago, that laid the foundation for today's academic-industrial complex. In 1980 concerns about declining U.S. productivity and rising competition from Japan propelled Congress to pass the, which for the first time allowed universities to patent the results of federally funded research. The goal of the legislation was to bring ideas out of the ivory tower and into the marketplace, by offering universities the opportunity to license campus-based inventions to U.S. companies, earning royalties in return. Both the government and the business world saw universities not merely as centers of learning and basic research but as sources of commercially valuable ideas, which is why the Business-Higher Education
Forum, a coalition of corporate and academic leaders, and similar groups lobbied to tear down the walls separating universities from the marketplace. In the years since, Congress has passed numerous other laws to bolster university-industry ties, including generous tax breaks for corporations willing to invest in academic research.

The Bayh-Dole Act was from the beginning controversial. Some in Congress argued that granting private companies the rights to publicly funded research amounted to an enormous giveaway to corporations; others pronounced the act a visionary example of industrial policy that would
help America compete in the fast-moving information age. What is undeniable is that Bayh-Dole has revolutionized university-industry relations. From 1980 to 1998 industry funding for academic research expanded at an annual rate of 8.1 percent, reaching $1.9 billion in 1997 -- nearly eight times the level of twenty years ago. Before Bayh-Dole, universities produced roughly 250 patents a year (many of which were never commercialized); in fiscal year 1998, however, universities
generated more than 4,800 patent applications. University-industry collaborations, Rausser argues, have brought important new products -- anti-cancer drugs -- to market, and have spurred America's booming biotech and computing industries.

"The University of California alone has issued over five hundred patents since Bayh-Dole," Rausser says. This is a powerful argument, but a troubling one. In an age when ideas are central to the economy, universities will inevitably play a role in fostering growth. But should we allow commercial forces to determine the university's educational mission and academic ideals? In higher education today corporations not only sponsor a growing amount of research -- they frequently dictate the terms under which it is conducted. Professors, their image as unbiased truth-seekers notwithstanding, often own stock in the companies that fund their work.

And universities themselves are exhibiting a markedly more commercial bent. Most now operate technology-licensing offices to manage their patent portfolios, often guarding their intellectual property as aggressively as any business would. Schools with limited budgets are pouring money into commercially oriented fields of research, while downsizing humanities departments and curbing expenditures on teaching.

Occasional reports on these developments, including a recent 60 Minutes segment on corporate-sponsored research, have begun to surface beyond the university. But the larger picture has yet to be filled out. It is this: universities, once wary beneficiaries of corporate largesse, have
become eager co-capitalists, embracing market values as never before.

...No sector of the economy better illustrates the potential benefits of this synergy than biotechnology, a multibillion-dollar industry that grew out of university  research labs. Garry Nolan, an assistant professor of molecular pharmacology at Stanford, epitomizes the new generation of professor-entrepreneurs. A few years ago Nolan founded Rigel, a biotech firm based in San Francisco that has pioneered a promising new method for identifying the proteins involved
in  asthma, allergies, immune disorders, and other health problems.

"We've already attracted a hundred and fifty million dollars in investment from various drug
companies interested in our work," Nolan says. "There's almost no greater and more immediate feedback than when you find a commercial entity interested in what you're doing."

Walter Powell, a sociologist at the University of Arizona who has tracked the growth of the biotech industry worldwide, believes that the close links between universities and industry are a principal reason why U.S. firms now dominate the biotech market -- a lesson America's competitors are taking to heart. "You're seeing other countries moving in the same direction," Powell says,
pointing out that the University of Munich has been involved in spinning off at least five private companies in Germany in the last two years alone. Lita Nelsen says her office at MIT has been overrun with visitors from other countries, including Japan, which recently passed its own version of the Bayh-Dole Act.

The surprising twist, however, is that although university licensing offices are churning out patents, most of these offices are themselves barely breaking even. "Everybody was waiting for a hundred million dollars a year out of their technology-transfer offices," Nelsen says. "The reality is that hardly
any schools earn anywhere near that." Although some academic achievements -- such as the discovery of recombinant DNA and the development of the hepatitis B vaccine (developed jointly at the University of California and the University of Washington) -- have generated millions, most have not, and Nelsen says it is impossible to predict which will be lucrative.

...In their zeal to maximize revenue, many schools are not only raising questions about their nonprofit status -- they are getting into some embarrassing skirmishes with their own students and professors over the rights to potentially lucrative ideas. In the most extraordinary case to date Peter Taborsky, a student at the University of South Florida, wound up on the chain gang of a maximum-security state prison after colliding with his university over the rights to a discovery he made as an undergraduate.

...Why would a state university go to such lengths? To protect future investments, of course. As Seth Shulman argues in Owning the Future, a new book about intellectual property in the information age, the Taborsky case "underscores what can happen when universities, beholden to industry for an
increasing share of research dollars, let financial concerns overshadow the notion of research as a
shared intellectual pursuit."

David Quist, a second-year graduate student in environmental science, laughed as he told a story illustrating the culture that now permeates the university. The previous October, Quist said, at a town-hall meeting where the Novartis deal was first made public, Dean Gordon Rausser invited concerned students to examine the contract for themselves. "So the next day I came to his office,"
Quist recalled. "I was given some materials and sat down to take notes. But as soon as an administrator saw me, she said, 'Oh, no, you can't do that.'"

Quist's notes were confiscated and held at the dean's office for several months. Wilhelm Gruissem, a professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology who helped to negotiate the Novartis deal, insists that the negotiations were as open as possible without divulging the company's proprietary secrets.

But even students within the department felt shut out. In December of 1998 twenty-three graduate students sent a letter to the faculty complaining that their views had never been solicited and that they had been "forced to rely on rumors and supposition throughout the negotiation process."

What most concerns the Students for Responsible Research is that as university-industry ties grow more intimate, less commercially oriented areas of science will languish. "Let's say you're a graduate student interested in sustainable agriculture or biological control or some other area that is not
commercial," Reynolds explained. "My guess is you're not going to come to Berkeley, or you'll at least think twice about it."

Donald Dahlsten, the associate dean of the College of Natural Resources, shares this concern. "Molecular biology and genetic engineering have clearly risen as the preferred approach to solving our problems, and that's where the resources are going," Dahlsten says. "New buildings have gone up, and these departments are expanding, while the organismic areas of science -- which emphasize
a more ecological approach -- are being downsized."

Dahlsten once chaired Berkeley's world-renowned Division of Biological Control. Today that division, along with the Department of Plant Pathology and more than half of all faculty positions in entomology, are gone -- in part, many professors believe, because there are no profits in such work. "You can't patent the natural organisms and ecological understanding used in biological control,"

Andy Gutierrez, a Berkeley entomologist, explains. "However, if you look at public benefit, that
division provided billions of dollars annually to the state of California and the world." In one project Gutierrez worked on, he helped to halt the spread of a pest that threatened to destroy the cassava
crop, a food staple for 200 million people in West Africa.

As the research agendas of universities and corporations merge, there is one other danger: namely, that universities will cease to serve as places where independent critical thought is nurtured. Anne Kapuscinski, a visiting professor from the University of Minnesota who studies genetically engineered organisms, and other scholars we met with at Berkeley fear that raising questions about the safety of genetically altered crops -- a principal research focus of Novartis -- may prove difficult if more and more agricultural colleges turn to corporations to finance their research.

oncerns about genetic engineering are mounting, Kapuscinski notes. A study published last May in Nature found that the toxins dispersed from the pollen of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn, a Novartis product, can kill nonpest insects, including the monarch butterfly -- a problem with potentially enormous ecological implications...

Ignacio Chapela, of the College of Natural Resources' executive committee, believes that the most important thing Novartis stands to gain from the alliance is legitimacy. "The sheer value of having the logo of the University of California next to the logo of Novartis is immensely valuable to the company right now," he says.

Maybe so -- but the plan may end up backfiring. At last year's graduation ceremony, in a graphic display of dissent, a student speaker placed the blue-and-orange Novartis logo directly above Berkeley's, while a hundred students in the audience mockingly donned graduation caps emblazoned
with the Novartis logo -- hardly the public exposure the company sought.

....The freedom of universities from market constraints is precisely what allowed them in the past to nurture the kind of open-ended basic research that led to some of the most important (and least expected) discoveries in history

...[how will researchers in the future] have the freedom to explore ideas that have no obvious and immediate commercial value? Only, it seems, if universities cling to their traditional ideals and maintain a degree of independence from the marketplace. This will not be easy in an age of dwindling public support for higher education. But the nation's top-flight universities can lead the way by
collectively establishing new guidelines designed to preserve academic freedom in all their interactions with industry. These could include forbidding professors from having direct financial ties to the companies sponsoring their research; banning universities themselves from investing in these companies; prohibiting publication delays of more than thirty to sixty days and any other editorial
constraints; and minimizing proprietary restrictions on basic research tools. In addition, universities could do more to make the case for preserving public support for higher education while refusing to tailor either the research agenda or the curriculum to the needs of industry.

"The best reason for supporting the college and the university," Hofstadter wrote, "lies not in the services they can perform, vital though such services may be,but in the values they represent. The
ultimate criterion of the place of higher learning in America will be the extent to which it is esteemed not as a necessary instrument of external ends, but as an end in itself."

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