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Posted on Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 2:18 p.m.

University of Michigan strikes $14M health research agreement with China's Peking University

By Nathan Bomey

(Update: This story has been updated with additional details about the partnership.)

The University of Michigan Medical School is establishing a joint institute with a Chinese university's massive research and health care center, officials announced this afternoon.

The joint institute between the U-M Medical School and the Peking University Health Science Center will include collaborative research projects, clinical trials and exchanging of faculty scientists and doctors.

U-M and Peking University are expected to spend about $7 million apiece to provide funding for the joint institute.

"A lot of times what you'll find in investigator-to-investigator partnerships is there's not really a big investment from either side," said Joe Kolars, U-M's senior associate dean for education and global initiatives, in an interview. "What's different here is that we're really setting up a structure and a platform for new collaborative work, and Peking University is making a major financial investment, as are we."

The collaborative agreement adds to U-M's growing list of partnerships with Chinese universities. Nineteen departments at the U-M Medical School have existing partnerships of some kind with 31 Chinese universities, U-M said.

U-M said the joint institute would aim for scientific breakthroughs in medicine to treat pulmonary, cardiovascular and liver diseases.

"Just because of the size of the country and the population, they have just a tremendous number of patients with these diseases," Kolars said. "We can partner with them to do discoveries with mutual benefit."

For U-M, access to Peking's enormous health care operation is particularly valuable. Peking's medical facilities have some 6,688 beds, complete 32,431 daily outpatient visits and report 1,810 daily emergency room visits. The U-M Health System, which employs about 22,000 workers, has 930 beds, 6,411 daily outpatient visits and 319 daily ER visits.

Beyond early-stage research, access to Peking health centers is particularly valuable for U-M, which expects to use the partnership to help China set up and manage clinical trials.

"They're asking us for help in terms of maximizing their opportunities to do clinical trials," Kolars said. "We don't see this as a situation where we're going in and setting up our own clinical trials unit. We're doing the work there, but we're actually partnering with them and strengthening their ability to do the work in a way that we both benefit from it."

"Being positioned globally is key to meeting our mission," U-M Medical School Dean James Woolliscroft said in a statement. "It is critical to developing innovative health and education models and being at the forefront of research. To continue to enhance our presence as a global medical school, we have to collaborate with China."

U-M said it would sign an agreement with Peking University leaders at a ceremony Oct. 12 a the Biomedical Science Research Building.

"In this ever-shrinking world, we want to work together to create the future of medicine for our global community,” said Ora Pescovitz, U-M's executive vice president of medical affairs and CEO of the U-M Health System, in a statement. “This kind of partnership will give our Medical School the kind of exposure to new ideas, new ways of thinking and the problems facing our world. Without that, we can’t make the major discoveries that we strive for and that we are committed to achieve."

Serving on the joint institute's executive board are: Woolliscroft; Pescovitz; Kolars; Joseph Kolars, U-M's senior associate dean for education and global initiatives; Steve Kunkel, senior associate dean for research at the Medical School; and Stephen Forrest, U-M's vice president for research.

Kolars estimated that the partnership could involve between 30 and 50 researchers on each side at any given time.

U-M was already collaborating with Peking researchers on a limited scale. The university also maintains a joint institute with Shanghai Jiao Tong University in which researchers are pursuing life sciences and clean energy vehicle technologies.

U-M was also recently selected to lead an electric vehicles research project for the federal government's U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 10:18 p.m.

Xenophobia is irrational, concerns about China are real. There are many grat Chinese scientist, most of them are already here. Even if you discount the lack of transparency and in government and the human rights issues, there are real concerns about IRB and human subject protocols in China. We will have no oversight and no control. Furthermore check out the NY Times article on fraud in Chinese science. The culture is very different from what we are used to.


Wed, Oct 6, 2010 : 11:39 a.m.

Sounds like a good move for UM. Peking(Beijing) University is considered the Harvard of China. Despite the occasional shadiness of Chinese science (it happens here too) if there is one center in china you want to partner with, this is it. Many bright scientists and motivated researchers, the partnership will allow oversight from both sides. And finally, let's stop with the xenophobia, ok?


Tue, Oct 5, 2010 : 12:02 p.m.

atnaap, you have a point. Who knows, perhaps there are professors in China right now protesting this agreement and asking why the country would wish to collaborate with a war-mongering, imperialist, nemesis out to broaden its influence.


Tue, Oct 5, 2010 : 10:15 a.m.

"autocratic regime with significant human rights issues"


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 10:57 p.m.

I agree with trespass. This agreement was made with little faculty input or even knowledge of the negotiations. After all, China is still a country led by an autocratic regime with significant human rights issues. Biomedical research is one of the last areas in which the US still leads the world and we are cooperating to hand our intellectual creativity over to a communist country who has little regard for individual rights. People of Michigan should be outraged.


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 5:23 p.m.

Is the UM going to be responsible for the quality and veracity of the clinical trials? China is an emerging economy with a history of stealing trade secrets, lying on students applications, plagiarism, adulterated drugs, conterfeit drugs, etc, etc, Remember that it has been credibly reported that they use organs from condemned criminals for transplants. Their medical ethics are not the same as ours. Will UM's Institutional Review Board be responsible for any violations of ethical standards? I think the UM's good name is put in jeapody by these kinds of agreements.


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 4:09 p.m.

Why is the U of M teaching the Chinese to take over another critical area of industry?


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 2:50 p.m.

C'est la vie.