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For Harvard University, which boasts an endowment of over $37 billion, a $20 million contribution is appreciated, but far from a game-changer.  

Still, that’s the amount that Merck paid the ivy league institution to obtain the rights of a potentially revolutionary group of cancer drugs that campus researchers have been working on. It’s the biggest drug licensing deal that Harvard has ever entered.  

The university will also be due royalties in the event that the experimental medication becomes a big money-maker.  

Luke Zimmerman, a biotech analyst, applauded the deal as combining the best of academic and industry strengths.  

Pharmaceutical companies, he said, are often bad at developing the types of molecular compounds that Harvard researchers created after receiving a $28 million donation for the research four years ago.  

“Now, (Merck) will bring industry’s capacity to do what it does best — develop compounds with optimal properties, run well-designed clinical trials, and bring the manufacturing and marketing muscle necessary to get a good drug into the hands of doctors and patients,” he wrote.  

Such deals invite no shortage of controversy, since some do not like the idea of academia selling out to big business. But for a medical innovation to serve its intended purpose, Zimerman argued, “a handoff needs to occur at some point.”  

Drug companies, of course, are not held in particularly high esteem these days. While some of the “new kids on the block,” most notably Turin Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli, have made headlines with astronomical price increases for life-saving drugs, the mainstays of the industry, such as Merck, have also steadily hiked the prices of their medications at a rate well above inflation.    

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