Patients' health or company profits? The commercialisation of academic research

Sci Eng Ethics. 2003 Jan;9(1):29-41. doi: 10.1007/s11948-003-0017-x.


This paper is a personal account of the events associated with the author's work at the University of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children on a drug, deferiprone, for the treatment of thalassaemia. Trials of the drug were sponsored by the Canadian Medical Research Council and a drug company which would have been able, had the trials been successful, to seek regulatory approval to market the drug. When evidence emerged that deferiprone might be inadequately effective in a substantial proportion of patients, the drug company issued legal threats when the author proposed informing her patients and the scientific community. Until protests were made by international authorities in her field of research, the hospital and university did not adequately support the author's academic freedom and responsibilities as a medical practitioner. It is argued that underlying cause of this, and of other similar cases, is the political philosophy which is driving the commercialisation of universities and bringing about the deregulation of drug approval procedures. Together these changes constitute a serious threat to the public good.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / economics*
  • Biomedical Research / ethics
  • Child
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / economics
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Commodification
  • Conflict of Interest*
  • Deferiprone
  • Disclosure
  • Drug Evaluation / economics
  • Drug Evaluation / ethics*
  • Drug Industry / ethics
  • Drug Industry / organization & administration
  • Ethics, Institutional*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Ethics, Research*
  • Freedom
  • Hospitals, Pediatric / ethics*
  • Hospitals, Pediatric / organization & administration
  • Hospitals, University / ethics*
  • Hospitals, University / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Ontario
  • Pyridones / therapeutic use
  • Research Support as Topic / ethics
  • Thalassemia / drug therapy


  • Pyridones
  • Deferiprone