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More on CNR's Research Agreement with Novartis

posted December 09, 1998

Last week Berkeleyan reported on the College of Natural Resources' (CNR) $25 million research collaboration with Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute (NADI).

The experimental, five-year agreement has generated many questions, from the details of how the funds will be dispensed to ethical and political implications of such an arrangement between a public research institution and a private entity.

Following are a few commonly asked questions of general interest. For the campus press release on the CNR/Novartis collaboration, with hyperlinks to a condensed version of the agreement and a complete Q&A, go to the campus home page ( and select News and Events.

Q: Will NADI funding be linked to individuals? Will it create inequities?

A: Funds are linked to projects, not to individuals. Funds will be awarded to faculty on a competitive basis, and all PMB faculty who elect to participate in the agreement will have the opportunity to apply to the Research Committee for NADI funds. The agreement is designed to narrow, not widen the equity gap among researchers.

Q: How can we be sure the money will fund research in the public interest?

A: University research is academic and benefits the public through teaching, research and the dissemination of information. Research proposals to be funded by NADI will be written by faculty members, not by NADI. We rely on the integrity of the faculty to further science in a meaningful way. One safeguard in the agreement speaks to precluding the filing of undesirable patents simply to block a competitor of NADI. It says that the University is not required to patent an invention if NADI does not have the ultimate goal of commecializing a product based on the invention.

Q: Is it fair to give one company an inside track?

A: Our departmental faculty support this agreement in part because they have seen the complications that can arise when individual faculty members sign research agreements with different companies. Artificial walls make it difficult for faculty members to discuss their work with colleagues. A professor who is doing research for Monsanto can't discuss it with a colleague who is doing work for Pioneer. You lose the horizontal spark, the interaction that makes academic research vital and productive. We think that working with a single sponsor will not only restore but increase that spark and energize the research enterprise.


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