Researcher decries rules on business

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 May, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 May, 2000, 12:00am

Tough conflict of interest guidelines are preventing university researchers from playing an active business role in the biotechnology industry, a leading academic says.

The University of Hong Kong's dean of science, Dr Frederick Leung Chi-ching, said the three research universities had high numbers of trained professionals in life sciences but not enough were going into business, even on a part-time basis. 'This has to change if the biotechnology industry is to follow the example of the Internet and e-commerce booms,' said Dr Leung, a geneticist and biotechnology researcher.

'Hong Kong University has, perhaps because of its colonial legacy, very restrictive guidelines on staff having outside business interests, and approval is given only on a case-by-case basis. North American universities resolved this conflict a long time ago: no matter what financial benefits a researcher gains from publicly funded research, the benefit to society is much greater with new jobs and more research.' He said the Chinese University was less restrictive, but only the University of Science and Technology had a policy of encouraging researchers to commercialise ideas.

The latter's associate vice-president of research and development, Professor Tony Eastham, said conflict of interest guidelines could be established without hindering the commercialisation of research. These include a clearly stated profit-sharing scheme. The university has so far established 19 technology-oriented companies.