There’s a great conversation going on over at DrugMonkey about getting too wrapped up in your hypotheses. Within that conversation have been a few claims on the “purity” of the science. To which CPP says: Academia’s not a motherfucking care bears tea party.
Let’s not mince words (CPP certainly won’t). This is absolutely true. But there’s more, academia, at least the academia I know, is an important cog in a giant economic wheel. The sooner you come to terms with this, the better off you will be.
1st, the obvious. Your indirect costs are important to your institution. You will get fired if you don’t bring them in. We all know this, hopefully.
Now, let’s get onto the not so obvious (although it should be):
1) NIH funding is a massive public investment. Part of this investment is based on the promise of improved human health. Another portion of it is based on economic growth. Where do drugs come from? The real answer is likely something like they come from happy accidents. The investment answer is that they come from target development, chemistry, target validation and then clinical trials. Along the way papers are published, patents are filed and trials are run. All of these steps build (or eventually destroy) value for people that are trying to make money. Some of them are owners of biotech companies, some of them are owners of stocks. All of them have some connection to work that is done in academic institutions to develop, validate or test these targets to make the next blockbuster drug. Sure, the way that we develop and buy drugs may change in the near future, but, for now this is how it works. NIH investment is an important part of this economic growth.
2) Moving on from drugs, let’s think about new techniques. Let’s say that you got some money from NIH to develop a completely new way to do something. Let’s say you do it, and its hot stuff. What are you gonna do now? More than likely, you’re gonna move toward a high profile pub. You should also be moving toward your local tech transfer, management or whatever its called where you are office to start getting that patent app in order. Your institution is gonna want a cut from the licensing that you are going to be doing. Ever heard of Click-chemistry. Wanna know how much Scripps is gonna make off that through its exclusive licensing agreement with Invitrogen? I’m gonna guess alot. But remember one thing, its not just them. Investors in Invitrogen stand to make a bundle as well. Here we have it again, economic growth based on academic advances through federal investment. Now, I’m not certain where the original investment came from for my little example; however, there are many other examples out there (look no further than the U of California or Texas systems) for hordes of money made off public investment that eventually spreads throughout the marketplace.
3) Finally, let’s think about jobs. All of these private or semi-private economic opportunities based on public investment can lead to jobs, and lots of them. How many Universities had tech transfer offices prior to big growth in NIH investment and the Baye-Dole act? I don’t know the answer but I’d bet large sums of money that the answer is fewer than there are now. Times are tough, and jobs are jobs. These things are valuable whether you think they earn their pay or not (and I think they do, for the record). Then there are the spinoffs and spinoffs of spinoffs and so on. Many of these come directly from NIH funded labs and eventually get their wings when they start to bring in private investment. Here we go again, move back to step 1 or 2 and get more of step 3.
So, say all you want about the purity of the science, I won’t argue with you. However, remember that we’re in a deep recession and that the thing you do in the lab can be an opportunity to improve our economy and make some jobs. That’s what I’ll be doing about it.