Merck official advocates collaboration between academia, industry

Michael Rosenblatt, MD

Michael Rosenblatt, MD

While those in academia and industry seek to ameliorate disease, the relationship between the two can be tenuous.

“We’re actually joined at the hip, but it’s a relationship that’s complicated in that over the last couple of years both have had issues and tensions at the interface,” said Michael Rosenblatt, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer at Merck and Co., Whitehouse Station, N.J. “Both sides would like to find ways to facilitate appropriate interactions in the best interests of patients.”

Dr. Rosenblatt will describe the current state, emerging models and possible opportunities for the two domains in the President’s Lecture, “Academia and Industry: How Can We Work Together?” The lecture opens the Annual Membership Meeting, which takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. today in Rooms 102-103-104, South Building (Lower Level), Moscone Center.

The lecture was established to provide a unique perspective on medicine and science from the vantage point of distinguished scientists, physicians and academicians.

“This topic is one of growing importance,” Dr. Rosenblatt said. “The way in which academia and industry will fulfill their missions to improve health relies on collaboration between the two sectors.”

Dr. Rosenblatt is Merck’s primary external advocate on medical issues and represents the voice of the patient inside Merck. He previously was dean of Tufts University School of Medicine and the George R. Minot professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, president of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and director of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

For Dr. Rosenblatt, research is a front where collaboration is vital. Academia conducts basic science research fundamental to medicine, and industry takes some of those fundamental discoveries and tries to translate them into advances in health, he said.

“Whether it’s drugs, vaccines, devices, or diagnostics, there’s overlap in the enterprise between academia and industry,” Dr. Rosenblatt said. “That’s kind of simply stated, but that’s the predominant way in which things go, and we both need each other.”

He added that legitimate opportunities exist in education, pointing to medical student and trainee education in drug discovery, development and regulation.

Finding other avenues to work together is paramount, given the dwindling lack of funding and reduced number of pharmaceutical companies.

“We’ve lost 75 percent of the pharmaceutical companies in the last 20 years,” Dr. Rosenblatt said. “That hasn’t happened with medical schools or hospitals, thank goodness, but 75 percent of pharmaceutical companies have been merged, acquired or gone belly up.

“So many partnerships have failed because we don’t understand each other, and we don’t treat each other like partners.”

While the relationship between academia, industry and government must be nurtured, it should also rely upon conflict of interest guidelines.

“We’ve been working on guidelines for more than 30 years. In most cases, the guidelines are ready to be used. It’s time to get on with it. We’re probably not going to find the perfect set of rules,” said Dr. Rosenblatt, adding that uncertainty has led some researchers to wait on the sidelines.

An area where everyone can work together is global health.

“Even a global company like mine only reaches 20 percent of the world’s population, so 80 percent of the population doesn’t get our vaccines and medicines,” he said. “That represents a huge opportunity to help human health.”