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A Lab that Straddles Worlds

Though is an academic researcher at MIT, Robert Langer has 811 issued or pending patents and has helped start 25 companies, The New York Times reports. He and his lab, the paper adds, are "on the front lines of turning discoveries made in the lab into a range of drugs and drug delivery systems. Without this kind of technology transfer, the thinking goes, scientific discoveries might well sit on the shelf, stifling innovation."

Langer and his lab have developed a number of products, including a chemotherapy wafer and a miniaturized chip as well as a controlled-release polio vaccine for use in the developing world. "Bob is not consumed with any one company," says Harvard Business School's Kent Bowen. "His mission is to create the idea."

The Times notes, that Langer and his team "have found a way to navigate some slippery territory: the intersection of academic research and the commercial market."

Though, generally speaking, Josephine Johnston from the bioethics organization the Hastings Center says that there is the question of whether commercial interests influence academic research. "I think that universities and the public policy makers are a little unsure where they think the balance should be. Does this opportunity skew the research agenda in terms of commercial application instead of the public interest?" she asks.

Langer tells the Times that his students are not pressured into developing businesses, and that his lab has strict ethics rules in place.