As accusations of undisclosed financial conflicts among university researchers swirl, drug makers and academics are entering a new stage of closer collaboration. Instead of striking traditional licensing deals with academic labs that produce commercializable results, companies are starting to reach farther back, all the way to the inception of basic research projects. The motivation from both sides is obvious: Pharma has a pipeline problem, and universities are clamoring for research dollars as public funding feels the pinch of the deflating economy. But closer relationships and earlier-stage collaborations between academia and pharma companies do not come without potential conflict of interest issues of their own. "There are both opportunities and pitfalls to such relationships," Johns Hopkins bioethicist linkurl:Jeremy Sugarman; told The Scientist. About a year ago, Merck Research Laboratories created a formal department to actively seek out early stage research collaborations with external partners. Catherine Strader, vice president of that...

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