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MIT/Amgen Agreement Should Benefit Both Parties Equally

After reading about the recent MIT-Amgen agreement, I began to do some serious thinking. I began to wonder about the ethical ramifications of the deal that was made and came to some disturbing conclusions. The first concerns Amgen's opinion of the new pact. Gordon Binder, chief executive officer of Amgen, says, "We are enthusiastic about this promising collaboration, which could serve as a model for industry-academia partnerships."

It's not a surprise that Amgen really appreciates the arrangement. Amgen will own some very impressive research. MIT is never second best and will probably produce something that gives Amgen no less than a few hundred million dollars in profits - all for only a $30 million grant. Of course, as Director for the Center of Cancer Research Richard O. Hynes PhD '71 states, "Amgen will want to spend its money on research they find interesting and useful," ["MIT and Amgen Ink 10-Year Pact," April 1].

That should read: Amgen will only support MIT research that will give Amgen the most profits, even if it may not necessarily benefit the public. Too often, the philosophy of business is to let the academian publish innovative ideas and then use a patent to reap monetary gains. This is obviously a consideration that should have been discussed, but it seems as though MIT forgot to mention it. If this is the standard by which MIT judges agreements, I am very afraid for the future of the Institute.

Secondly, Hynes goes on to state that "government funding is rising too slowly." He implies that we [MIT] must turn to industry to pay for research (The Tech, April 1). This is a wonderful idea except for one thing - our relationship with our "benefactor" hasn't changed. Instead of being owned by the federal government (as in the 1970s), we can now be owned by private industries. An interesting twist, but still a very dangerous partnership. This is something we should be wary of, not something to embrace as President Charles M. Vest would have us do.

My final point is the result of the March 30 Tech Talk article "MIT and Amgen Announce Biological Research Agreement." One paragraph in that article states that Amgen's founders include MIT Professor Emeritus Raymond Baddour, who still serves as a director. Doesn't this gentleman see the conflict of interest that exists here? He is on the board of directors of Amgen and a member of the MIT community. That creates a bomb just waiting to explode in all our faces. When there is a conflict (few relationships of this sort encounter no problems), whose side will he represent: the right of MIT to quest for knowledge or the desire of Amgen to make a buck and thereby put money in his own pocket? Which position is he more likely to defend - a directorship with all its perks or a professorship?

If this is the standard that professors are held to, then I am worried about the quality of an MIT education. I wonder if I am spending money to gain some knowledge, or to learn how to pad my wallet? I sincerely hope that The Tech and Tech Talk will keep the MIT community updated on any happenings connected with this new agreement. I would like to know if any changes are made or if any difficulties arise - especially if they are of the type I have mentioned here.

These really are simple problems to solve. They involve the use of ethical reasoning, on both sides, and a true desire to help mankind, instead of one's pocketbook. I think that MIT and Amgen can work out the inconsistencies in their arrangement and make it lead to fruitful discoveries for the benefit of all. I hope that they can both take a hint as well as some constructive criticism.

William V. Potter '97