Tomorrow's Cures Today? How to Reform the Health Research System

By Donald R. Forsdyke | Go to book overview

11

Not Cricket

Racing to discover

If any one individual can claim credit for the revolution in biotechnology, it is Arthur Kornberg. In his autobiography (1), he describes progress in the biosciences as a series of overlapping races, each preceded by periods of innovation. In the 19th century, scientists such as Louis Pasteur introduced the idea that some diseases were caused by microorganisms, and developed procedures for isolating them (eg. the “Petri dish”). This “type A science” defined a major strategy, which then triggered a race to identify the causative organisms of the major infectious diseases (“type B science”; 2). The race to discover bacteria was followed by the races to find vitamins and antibiotics (in the 1920s and 1930s). Then in the post-war era, there was the race to find proteins. Today it's the race to find genes. In each case first there were new concepts and associated technologies (type A), and this was then followed by their exploitation (type B). In the word of molecular biologist Gilbert Ling:

“The relation between type A and type B research resembles the relation between the spring and the river it feeds.”

Type B science requires a different set of abilities than A type science; good tactical (rather than strategic) judgement; entre-prenurial know-how; management skills. In pure form (seldom

-99-

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