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A Comparison of U.S. and European University-Industry Relations in the Life Sciences

By Jason Owen-Smith, Massimo Riccaboni, Fabio Pammolli and Walter W. Powell


We draw on diverse data sets to compare the institutional organization of upstream life science research across the United States and Europe. Understanding cross-national differences in the organization of innovative labor in the life sciences requires attention to the structure and evolution of biomedical networks involving public research organizations (universities, government laboratories, nonprofit research institutes, and research hospitals), science-based biotechnology firms, and multinational pharmaceutical corporations. We use network visualization methods and correspondence analyses to demonstrate that innovative research in biomedicine has its origins in regional clusters in the United States and in European nations. But the scientific and organizational composition of these regions varies in consequential ways. In the United States, public research organizations and small firms conduct R&D across multiple therapeutic areas and stages of the development process. Ties within and across these regions link small firms and diverse public institutions, contributing to the development of a robust national network. In contrast, the European story is one of regional specialization with a less diverse group of public research organizations working in a smaller number of therapeutic areas. European institutes develop local connections to small firms working on similar scientific problems, while cross-national linkages of European regional clusters typically involve large pharmaceutical corporations. We show that the roles of large and small firms differ in the United States and Europe, arguing that the greater heterogeneity of the U.S. system is based on much closer integration of basic science and clinical development.

Topics: L65 - Chemicals; Rubber; Drugs; Biotechnology, L14 - Transactional Relationships; Contracts and Reputation; Networks, B52 - Institutional; Evolutionary, D02 - Institutions: Design, Formation, and Operations, I23 - Higher Education Research Institutions, O32 - Management of Technological Innovation and R&D, O31 - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
Year: 2002
DOI identifier: 10.1287/mnsc.
OAI identifier:

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