The University of Wisconsin is ranked sixth in the nation for research, but recent allegations have illuminated difficulties some businesses face when applying to work with UW researchers or receive funding and other support.

Exact Sciences, a research company based in Madison, alleged that the university implements considerable “red tape” and bureaucratic hurdles when companies try to partner with it for research purposes. Robert Golden, dean of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, did not deny this, but also said it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“I wouldn’t call them accusations — I would call it a well-established fact that we, like most universities, are a complex, cumbersome bureaucracy to work with,” Golden said. “I say that with recognition that our difficulties were created for all the right reasons.”

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This process was put in place to protect research subjects and follow all applicable federal and state guidelines, Golden said. But Golden said he recognizes changes could be considered to make impactful scientific advances.

Golden said the benefit of working with corporate researchers, both for UW and their partners, is the greatly increased potential to help people — something Golden sees not only as an opportunity, but a necessity.

“Our ethical obligation is to take all the incredible intelligence, energy, enthusiasm and dedication of our faculty, staff and students, and use that to discover new ways through medical research to improve the health of people in Wisconsin and beyond,” Golden said.

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Despite the potential positive outcomes, one study found 50 percent of applicants had given up in attempting to receive aid or research assistance from UW because of the difficulty of the review process. 

However, the university has been attempting to “streamline” its application process, Golden said.

“I would say [companies that have given up] should come back and give us another chance,” Golden said. “We are in the process of doing a lot of changes, of creating some new processes that will make it easier and speedier to get projects approved here. We are creating some new positions and taking a look at some ways we can be much more user-friendly.”

The same study found a perception that UW’s Institutional Review Board is more concerned with avoiding liability than properly assessing the risks human subjects may face.

Golden, however, said he sees the wellbeing of subjects and patients as a very high priority.

“[We cannot] in any way give up the safety and protection of subjects,” Golden said. “That is more important than anything else.”

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UW has begun to implement changes, such as the creation of the Office of Business Engagement, Golden said. OBE, led by Amy Achter, connects business and industry with the resources needed to advance business, according to their website.

“We are making a concerted effort to make it easier for industry partners to work with UW,” Achter said.

OBE helps companies connect with whatever resources they need, including talent, sponsored research, and opportunities for philanthropic activity, Achter said. One OBE effort includes making it easier for businesses to find what they are looking for from UW.

In addition to their stated mission, OBE offers a number of services for companies, including professional development opportunities and tips on how businesses can increase their visibility on campus.

“The new Office of Business Engagement is part of that solution — not the entire solution, but we are trying to give our partners one way of getting into the university, to help them navigate the complexities that exist here,” Achter said.

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Through OBE and the continued study of the current processes’ faults, UW hopes to further improve the system until it is useable and protects the rights and privacy of research subjects, Golden said.

These changes are necessary because research is essential to UW, Golden said.

“[Medical research] is one of our core elements,” Golden said. “It is one of the things that defines us as one of the leading research-intensive universities.”

Though changes have not yet been implemented, Golden expects to see “real change” by the spring semester.