Saturday, February 5, 2011

Against "big" science

What are the really key ingredients to important research breakthroughs? Is the involvement of commercial interests helpful, neutral, or a hindrance?
The following letter appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald last month. I read it when it was reprinted in The Week. This was in the context of an article Doctors criticise leukemia drug study concerning potential conflicts of interest.
Drug companies are not a cure-all
Stephen Mulligan (Letters, January 26) says: "Collaboration between leading clinicians and industry, under appropriate guidelines, is not just desirable but essential. Without it there will be no progress in clinical research, and the textbooks for treatment for 2050 and beyond could be written now."
Really? Two of the greatest medical advances in the past 50 years, both identified primarily by Australians, were the discoveries of the causal relationship of some types of papilloma viruses to cancer of the cervix and that of Helicobacter pylori to peptic ulcer (the latter gaining a Nobel Prize for its discoverers).
Neither required the intervention of drug companies, or of umpteen authors, or even much research money, just the sheer genius of insight - insights overlooked by the rest of us for years.
Ben Goodman, Emeritus consultant in anatomical pathology, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney

1 comment:

  1. ..and there is always the question whether a drug company will market a cheap and easy solution to a disease such as cancer, if ever found, instead of lengthy and incredibly expensive "cures" they have at the moment.
    In the end, if they are just commercial entities, their only goal is to maximise profitability, and ethics is quite easily disregarded in a big enough company where the governments are helpless to control, see Nestle and the milk powder, well, even the swine-flu business.

    This kind of stories are well exploited in fiction culture, a spot-on but maybe not so well told story is