A reader writes:

As a scientist myself, and having worked at NIH, I have to give my 2 cents.  When you talk about the pharmaceutical companies doing research, you say, specifically:

"Their work is more geared to treatments for specific diseases, and is vital."

You are absolutely right; however, you forget to consider that companies usually concentrate their efforts on those diseases that will bring them money. They are a business, and that's what they do.

For those diseases that the market here doesn't care about (let's say all the parasitic diseases affecting the Third World), only the government institutions and universities are paying enough attention doing basic scientific research.  That is why institutions like the NIH are even more vital than the pharmaceutical companies, because they lay down the basic work needed for the future development of drugs. And you know that the basic research that uncovered HIV and the biology of AIDS was done at the NIH and government institutions in France, which of course then encouraged the companies to start their own R&D in that area. I currently work as a contractor for NIH and I see how even when companies develop their drugs, they heavily rely on the NIH funds to run their clinical trials (in this case, for cancer). It is clear that there are certain areas they don't want to put money into, even when in the future they will profit from it, so they turn to the government to do the dirty work: the tedious, extensive and expensive road of the clinical trials. More so in cases of rare cancers or diseases, where there is no money to be made yet.

Anyway, I'm not dismissing the role of pharmaceutical companies, I'm just trying to elevate the role of public research to its rightful place.

The NIH is amazing, vital and central. But it is not enough.

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