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Among the most fiercely competitive corporations in the business world, pharmaceutical companies jealously guard their secret research and profitable patents. Yet an industry group is now promoting a plan to break down the walls dividing the world's major drug makers for an all-out effort against cancer. The CEO Roundtable on Cancer, which met earlier this month, is considering a proposal to create a research collaboration similar to one established by the US semiconductor industry in the 1980s. The proposed research plan would spread both the risks and rewards of drug discovery across a wide pool of companies and potentially speed treatment to patients.

The plan faces significant obstacles, chiefly legal problems related to intellectual property rights and antitrust regulations. A task force exploring the idea expects it will take at least another year to come up with a solid framework for a combined research program. "This...

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