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Would we be wise to prioritize “shovel-ready” science over curiosity-driven, fundamental research programs? Would that set the stage for the discovery of more new medicines over the long term?

To find solid answers to these questions, scientists at Harvard and the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research (NIBR), publishing in Science Translational Medicine, looked deep into the past discovery of new drugs and showed that, in fact, fundamental research is “the best route to the generation of powerful new medicines”.

“The discoveries that lead to the creation of a new medicine do not usually originate in an experiment that sets out to make a drug. Rather, they have their origins in a study – or many studies – that seek to understand a biological or chemical process,” explains Mark Fishman, one of three authors of the study. “And often many years pass, and much scientific evidence accumulates, before someone realizes that maybe this work holds relevance to a medical therapy. Only in hindsight does it seem obvious.”

Fishman is a Harvard Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, a faculty member of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and former President of NIBR. He is a consultant for Novartis and MPM

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