A new laboratory at Bradford University funded by pharmaceutical giant Glaxo has reopened the debate over ownership of intellectual property rights in joint ventures between academics and industry.
Glaxo has given Bradford Pounds 1.25 million over five years for research into a pioneering technique in supercritical fluids developed by PhD student Mazen Hanna.
Sir Mark Richmond, director of Wellcome Research and Development and former vice chancellor of Manchester University, said the joint venture could form a blueprint for similar collaborative programmes at other universities.
But he warned that despite enthusiasm from the pharmaceutical industry for working with universities in exploiting new technologies, their efforts were under threat because of misguided Government policy.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England's directive on generic research suggests that universities should own their own intellectual property rights. But Sir Mark stressed that patents were the lifeblood of the pharmaceutical industry.
It cost Pounds 150 million to bring a new drug to market, he said, and it was therefore crucial that property rights were retained by companies in the first instance. If this could not be secured then firms could be forced to seek overseas partners.
In the deal struck with Bradford, Glaxo has patented the technology and then reassigned the intellectual property back to the university to enable academics there to fully exploit its potential. This is because the technology is not part of Glaxo's core business. Glaxo will continue to make an intellectual input to the project but the university is free to approach other pharmaceutical companies to attract support. So far two firms have committed funding.
Mr Hanna, whose PhD thesis has just been submitted for examination, was originally funded by a Pounds 15,000 per year Glaxo studentship in 1992. His new technique, called Solution Enhanced Dispersion by Supercritical fluids, has important health and environmental implications since it allows drugs to be produced more precisely and with significantly fewer impurities. The technique could have applications for polymers and ceramics as well as pharmaceuticals.
* Glaxo has also given Pounds 1 million to Strathclyde University to fund research posts for young academics who will help advances in drug discovery.
The Glaxo-Jack research lecturerships honour Sir David Jack, former Glaxo Group research director and a Strathclyde graduate who was associated with Glaxo's work on new asthma treatments.