Do the big shots call the shots?

July 17, 1998

Industry giants put millions of pounds into university research, but what do they expect in return? The THES spotlights three of the big spenders. Oxford's Glycobiology Institute receives the biotech's firm largest European investment. Alison Goddard reports

The giant US biotech company Monsanto spent more than Pounds 25 million on funding research into glycoscience at the University of Oxford between 1983 and 1993. It then gave a substantial endowment to the Oxford Glycobiology Institute, part of the university, to pay for a new building and to fund fellowships.

Like Microsoft, Monsanto does not keep a central record of what it spends on university research. "Different bits of the company fund different bits of research," a spokesperson said. But its involvement with Oxford is its largest research investment in Europe, said Raymond Dwek, the director of the institute.

Unsurprisingly for the recipient of such funds, Professor Dwek has nothing but praise for the sometimes controversial firm. "Monsanto has been very idealistic in its interactions with us," he said. Since completing its programme of contract research at the university, Monsanto has renegotiated its relationship with the Oxford scientists.

Researchers can submit their work for publication in scientific journals as long as they notify Monsanto of the paper in advance. Monsanto then has 30 days - or exceptionally, 90 days - to decide whether to patent the development described before the paper is sent for publication. Monsanto has the first rights over the work, but it pays royalties to the university researchers. "I think it sees university researchers as creating techniques that flow into Monsanto."

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