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AcademicIndustrial Relations Before the Blockbuster Drugs: Lessons From the Harvard Committee on Pharmacotherapy, 19391943

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

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

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.

Author Information

Dr. Podolsky is assistant professor of global health and social medicine, Harvard Medical School, and director, Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Medical Library, Boston, Massachusetts.

Dr. Greene is assistant professor of the history of science, Harvard University, and instructor in medicine, Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, Brigham and Women's Hospital Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Podolsky, Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Medical Library, 10 Shattuck Street, Boston, MA 02115; e-mail:

First published online February 21, 2011

© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges