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Message from the MGH

Academia’s role in driving innovation.

Spring 2008
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The immunity conferred by the three-shot Gardasil vaccination against some types of human papillomavirus that cause cervical cancer comes at the cost of possible soreness (and $360). Yet the benefits of this immunologic marvel clearly outweigh its expense and any side effects. In this issue of Proto we examine how Gardasil and other new products are leading a robust resurgence in vaccines.

We've come a long way since Edward Jenner, who, in eighteenth-century England, built on the observation that milkmaids infected with cowpox seemed protected from smallpox. Jenner conducted his own crude clinical trials and even handled the development and marketing of a vaccine used on thousands in England and then exported to the United States. In contrast, vaccine development today is extraordinarily complicated, rigorous and expensive, and usually arises from a collaboration between academic medical centers and pharmaceutical companies. Academia often provides the intellectual capital while industry lends its manufacturing capabilities and business expertise in a partnership that routinely translates discoveries into therapies that help patients—an enormous benefit often overlooked these days, when any such relationship is considered a potential conflict of interest and subject to intense political and media scrutiny.

As academia's most promising ideas inch along, private companies may take notice, and the attention can lead to licensing agreements that move innovations toward the marketplace. It's clear that industry finds this a bountiful relationship. In 2006, for example, academic groups received $45 billion in research-and-development funding from private companies.

Here at the MGH, in 2007, we executed more than 100 license agreements to transfer commercial rights for innovative technologies, filed 129 patents and negotiated 725 clinical research agreements. Today our scientists continue working to develop new generations of vaccines, such as those looking at viral protein fragments as a way to prevent HIV and AIDS. Other global scourges, including typhoid, cholera and diphtheria, are inspiring researchers to identify, refine and test new vaccines.

Interest on the part of industry can eventually carry such important efforts to the patient waiting eagerly on the other side of the finish line. The dynamic interplay between academia and industry is truly a powerful force—our best shot—in the race against disease.

Peter L. Slavin, M.D.
Massachusetts General Hospital
David F. Torchiana, M.D.
CEO and Chairman
Massachusetts General Physicians
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