Academic Medicine

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Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31820cdc7f
History of Academic Medicine

Academic–Industrial Relations Before the Blockbuster Drugs: Lessons From the Harvard Committee on Pharmacotherapy, 1939–1943

Podolsky, Scott H. MD; Greene, Jeremy A. MD, PhD

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Increasing discussion has developed in recent years over the nature of the relationship between academic medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. This article narrates the history of a little-known attempt at Harvard Medical School between 1939 and 1943 to establish an interdisciplinary, academic–industrial Committee on Pharmacotherapy to enhance and rationalize the relationship between the field of academic research in pharmacotherapeutics and the pharmaceutical industry. Using original archival materials, the authors depict the functioning of the committee, which was headed by Soma Weiss and included such members as Fuller Albright, Henry Beecher, and Walter Cannon. The committee would be collectively funded by seven pharmaceutical companies and was to be predicated on collaboration, both across the entire university and between academia and industry. It was expected to transform the bench-to-bedside study and testing of therapeutic compounds, to redefine the teaching of pharmacotherapy, and to create a unified forum through which to discuss the overall academic–industrial relationship and more specific issues such as patents. Unfortunately, the program proved to be short-lived, the victim of such contingent factors as the untimely death of Soma Weiss and America's entry into World War II, as well as such more fundamental factors as the inadequate and temporary nature of the funding stream and unresolved tensions regarding the goals of the committee on the part of both the medical school and its industry supporters. Nevertheless, these early forays into collaborative bench-to-bedside translational research and the rationalization of academic–industrial relations remain instructive today.

© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges


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