Scandal Must Not Halt Biotech Development
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 1, 2010
Next week the Academia Sinica will hold its biennial members meeting. Veteran academics from home and abroad will gather. It will be a major event within the academic community. The Academia Sinica however has been dogged by misfortune for the past six months. A series of controversies have left it struggling to cope. Two months ago, the Academia Sinica attempted to develop a small plot of land belonging to Arsenal Number 202. Some environmentalists have accused it of encroaching on wetlands. It was eventually shown that the Academia Sinica Biotech Park was far removed from any wetlands. But by then an unfavorable atmosphere had already formed. putting future plans for a National Health Technology Park in doubt.
Then, last week, the director of the Academia Sinica Biomedical Institute became a suspect in a procurement scandal. He was interrogated, searched, and released on bail. This is probably the first time a member of the Academia Sinica has ever been a defendant in a criminal case. The incident has harmed the reputation of the institution. The case pertains to biotechnology and technology transfers. Therefore it has affected the prospects for Taiwan's biotechnology industry. This incident, along with the controversy over the aforementioned Arsenal Number 202 Biotechnology Park, may make the road ahead a bumpy one. This newspaper has commented on the Park environmental dispute. We now have some comments on the procurement scandal.
We have no desire to comment on the case per se. We merely wish to comment on the manner in which prosecutors and investigators have handled the case. The Academia Sinica is the Republic of China's foremost research institute. Being made a member of the Academia Sinica is considered the highest possible honor. Prosecutors and investigators made a great show of searching the institution, including members' laboratories. They seized evidence and leaked information to the press. This constitutes a violation of the prohibition against publicizing an ongoing investigation. It can also be considered prosecutorial excess. Consider the evidence seized. Couldn't the court have subpoenaed the Academia Sinica, asking it to provide information pertaining to technology transfers and industrial cooperation? Would the Academia Sinica really have dared to defy a court order? Would it really have refused to provide the information? Instead, prosecutors seized evidence. This implies that the suspect might destroy evidence. Why did prosecutors assume that an Academia Sinica scholar would stoop so low? Was there really no civilized way of dealing with the nation's foremost academic institution and its esteemed scholars? Were prosecutors eager to throw their weight around, to convey the thuggish message that "We are unafraid to prosecute anyone." Prosecutors have searched the media. They have searched the nation's foremost academic institute. They have leaked information to outsiders. When will we outgrow such Neanderthal handling of cases?
Secondly, we are concerned about the eventual impact of these cases on technology transfers and industrial cooperation. Keen observers note that research on Taiwan has borne considerable fruit. But it is wrong to credit decentralized industry research efforts alone. Chinese society traditionally regards scholarship as a lofty pursuit. It is not accustomed to technical cooperation between academia and industry. As a result, scholars on Taiwan are not accustomed to transferring the fruits of their R & D efforts to industry. Over a decade ago the "Basic Laws Governing Science and Technology" were passed. They finally established intellectual property incentives for technology transfers. But changing the culture of the research community on Taiwan is not easy. The "Basic Law Governing Science and Technology" has still left many technology transfer related concepts undefined.
We hope the outside world will judge the Academia Sinica technology transfers and procurement scandals on a case by case basis. We hope they will deal with systemic defects separately. Biotechnology industry R & D, follow-up industry research, and the eventual development of a marketable product, can take a decade or more. During this long gestation period, research institutes, researchers, manufacturers, and the government must interact with each other. The process involves information disclosure, the avoidance of conflicts of interest, rules for price negotiations, distinctions between new patent rights and old patent rights, investment returns on government subsidies, and other considerations. The more variables, the more complex the potential benefits.
Logically speaking, each step in the process should abide by international precedents, thereby establishing explicit norms which researchers may follow. Unfortunately, many areas remain a blank. Researchers have neglected to disclose information and avoid conflicts of interest. Even the authorities are still feeling their way through the fog. When the rulebook for the transfer of original R & D and technology remains a blank, then logically we must return to the Procurement Act. Once technological research is defined as conventional research, all sorts of legal disputes are inevitable. The good intentions of decentralized industrial R & D will also come to naught.
Taiwan's biotech industry has a rosy future. But the Academia Sinica faces many dangers and obstacles as it attempts to promote the biotech industry on Taiwan. Some, inevitably, will complain. For the sake of Taiwan's industrial future, we hope the Academia Sinica will not be negatively affected by the controversy over the Arsenal Number 202 Biotech Park and the Biomedical Procurement scandal. It must continue promoting biotechnology. It must overcome any and all difficulties. It must solve any and all problems. It must boldly confront any and all scandals. It must never allow repeated blows to forestall the development of the biotech industry.