Reinvesting in basic science: Putting the focus back on discovery

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Reinvesting in basic science: Putting the focus back on discovery

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Reinvesting in basic science: Putting the focus back on discovery

Subheading text
Research focusing on discovery more than application has lost steam over recent decades, but governments are planning to change that.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • June 7, 2023

    Although not always leading to immediate practical applications, basic science research can lay the foundation for significant breakthroughs in various fields. The rapid development of mRNA vaccines during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of how basic science research can profoundly impact global health. Allocating more funding towards basic science research can help address current challenges and open up new opportunities for scientific innovation.

    Reinvesting in basic science context

    Basic science research focuses on discovering new knowledge about how the natural world works. Researchers study fundamental concepts and processes to better understand the underlying mechanisms that govern our universe. They are often driven by curiosity and a desire to explore new frontiers of knowledge. 

    In contrast, applied research and development (R&D) studies focus on creating new technologies, products, and processes with direct applications and practical uses. Most of the funding for R&D goes to applied research, as it has more immediate and tangible benefits for society. However, some governments like Canada and the US plan to reinvest in basic science research to boost medical discoveries. 

    The amazing development of mRNA vaccines within a year has done a lot to highlight the importance of basic science research. The mRNA technology stands on decades of previous basic science research, where scientists experimented with vaccines in rats with no straightforward future applications. However, their discoveries have resulted in a solid foundation that led to the reliability and effectiveness of these vaccines.

    Disruptive impact

    Governments will likely reinvest in basic science research by building university-based laboratories, typically established in or near technology hubs, where they can benefit from the proximity to other research institutions, startups, and innovative companies. Laboratories can access private funding and a highly skilled workforce by partnering with tech firms and other universities. This strategy creates a cycle of innovation as the laboratories and their partners collaborate on new R&D projects, share knowledge and expertise, and work together to commercialize discoveries.

    An example is pharmaceutical company Merck’s Knowledge Quarter (worth $1.3 billion USD) built in central London. In the US, the federal government is lagging behind private research funding ($130 billion versus $450 billion). Even within the private research funding, only 5 percent goes to basic science research. 

    Some measures are being implemented to boost R&D studies. In 2020, the US Congress introduced the Endless Frontier Act, which gives $100 billion for five years to build a technology arm within the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Biden administration also allocated $250 billion for research as part of a large infrastructure plan. Still, scientists are urging the government to budget more funding for basic science if the US wants to continue to be a global leader in science and technology developments. 

    Implications of reinvesting in basic science

    Wider implications of reinvesting in basic science may include:

    • More research hubs located at the heart of tech and business districts to encourage collaboration among local governments, public universities, and private firms.
    • Increased funding of basic science research geared toward life sciences, medicines, and vaccines.
    • Big pharma firms leading international scientific research on complex diseases such as genetic defects, cancers, and heart illnesses.
    • The development of new industries and the creation of new jobs and job roles.
    • New treatments, cures, and prevention strategies for diseases, leading to better health outcomes, longer life expectancy, and a decrease in healthcare costs.
    • Discoveries and innovations that can help protect the environment. For example, research on renewable energy sources can lead to the development of new clean energy technologies.
    • A greater appreciation and understanding of our place in the universe, which can help us better manage and protect our natural resources.
    • Countries collaborating to build on each other’s discoveries.

    Questions to consider

    • Do you agree that basic science research should have more funding?
    • How can basic science research affect future pandemic management?

    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight: