Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Science in the hands of the beholder

My ex-partner and I had an ongoing argument on university-based scientific research. He adamantly opposed publicly-funded research. His stance was that science research should be privately funded at private institutions and companies.

My primary argument against his assertions was that profit drives private and business-based science. Research is funded by these entities only if they result in a marketable product that nets them capital gain. Public research is motivated by basic, transitional and applicable science. And human compassion.

Additionally, discoveries originating at public institutions are supposed to be free to the public and commercial development. They are shared. Discoveries from commercial research are not shared; they are sold.

The current danger of global antibiotic resistance is an example. The Soviet Union had developed and relied upon using bacteriophages as an alternative to antibiotics for decades. They were forced to because Russians were denied access to some of the best antibiotics developed on the rest of the world. Many countries of the former Union still use phage therapy today.

Faced with the looming disaster of antibiotic resistance, many Western researchers and institutions are now collaborating with former Soviet Union scientists to investigate and develop phage therapies. New projects are funded by governments and non-government and non-profit organizations. They hope to quickly determine which phages target disease-causing bacteria. Because a phage is specific to a bacteria species, phage therapy will not only reduce the risk of resistance but also avoid wiping out the beneficial bacteria.

Most Pharmaceutical companies, on the other hand, have not only discontinued their antibiotic R&D, but are also reluctant to get on board with the phage development. They would not likely be able to claim treatments as intellectual property or patent any phages isolated from nature because of last year's US  Supreme Court ruling against patenting natural genes. In other words, they would not be able to make a profit.

Case made.

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