Integrating Responsible Innovation Research into Emerging Commercialization Practices for Synthetic Biology

Cameron Keys

Research universities are de facto science and technology policy laboratories attempting to reconcile powerful incentives to accelerate R&D commercialization with ethical and democratic commitments to responsible innovation (RI). Social scientists have called for applying RI research tools to education programs that teach university scientists about entrepreneurship (e.g., Innovation Corps) ; but silos separating RI research from commercialization practices persist in national legislation and in practice. It is time for university administrators, grant agencies, and principal investigators to integrate these activities. This action plan aims at an administrative vision to guide this integration, taking synthetic biology R&D as a focus. R&D commercialization entails a push and pull of competing commitments to investors, regulators, consumers, inventors, varied ethical perspectives, and public values. Technology transfer experts emphasize that “whoever gets it to market in the fastest and most effective manner wins,” but accelerated commercialization is only part of the story. The bigger situation is that research universities are in a position to redesign the DNA of corporate personhood and the ethos of responsible innovation, shaping the transformative potential of emerging technologies by paying equal attention to the material and social sides of innovation.