The title of the paper “Structure-Activity Relationship for Thiohydantoin Androgen Receptor Antagonists for Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer,” co-authored by UCLA chemistry professor Michael Jung, doesn’t sound particularly thrilling upon first read.
But for those who will benefit from the novel prostate cancer drug Xtandi, nothing could be more exciting.
Xtandi is the result of one of the nearly 600 inventions that UCLA has licensed to private industries. Moreover, it is a strong example of the multitude of social and economic benefits that flow from institutions, such as this one, that receive federal funding for scientific research.
It is also an example of a largely unnoted political benefit. As the election countdown moves from weeks to days, it is all too easy to be pulled into the divisive rhetoric of big-government liberals and small-government conservatives.
When it comes to science and research, however, this dichotomy doesn’t exist. Admittedly, issues such as the morality of stem cell research and the extent of climate change draw significant and appropriate debate in the political scene, but both sides rightly acknowledge the importance of government funding for scientific research.
On the whole, the decision to channel federal dollars into research is not a political question, but results from a simple cost-benefit analysis. As long as technological innovations coming out of public institutions like UCLA continue to generate valuable, cutting-edge jobs, funding scientific inquiry is a sound national investment.
One of the few settled questions in economics is that innovation drives economic growth ““ a fact that holds true whether a Democrat or a Republican holds office.
President Barack Obama has pledged to double federal research budgets in order to spur innovation. And even though the bulk of Gov. Mitt Romney’s policies seem to center around the slogan “government does not create jobs,” he has still voiced support for investment in government-funded research.
Historically speaking, both Democrats and Republicans have favored research targeting certain private firms or industries.
It’s refreshing to see that, among all the partisan mud-slinging, both sides of the political spectrum can agree on something.
And it’s easy to see why they agree.
In the midst of a sluggish recovery, both candidates have emphasized job creation, and science leads to the type of innovation that drives the economy forward.
The Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research estimates that UCLA generates $46.3 billion in economic activity for the state of California every year. That number accounts for the entire economic output of the campus, but also includes 670 active and 153 newly filed U.S. patents, among them the license of Xtandi’s active ingredient to the pharmaceutical company Medivation.
“It’s been shown time and time again that universities can help out in boosting the economy of cities, of states,” said Ragan Robertson, operational manager at the UCLA Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Sponsored Research.
Moreover, Robertson said that the innovation flowing from UCLA labs into private industry can help create valuable, high-tech jobs.
That research in public institutions creates jobs is not, in and of itself, a good justification for the government to be investing on behalf of private citizens. On the other hand, the reality that jobs created through publicly funded research would not otherwise emerge from the private sector is a good reason for government involvement.
There is a disconnect between the cost of the scientific research done by public institutions and its payoff, which is why the private sector may not want to invest in these studies that will not reap immediate financial benefits.
Firstly, investment in research may not translate into a marketable product for years or decades, a timespan that is often beyond the horizon of possibility for private enterprise.
Additionally, fundamental discoveries that university researchers come across may be so unexpected or accidental that no reasonable company would think to pursue them in the first place.
By taking a more farsighted approach than a free market does, government can help ensure that important public research continues.
Even a conservative economist will likely tell you that in the case of a disconnect between investment and profit, government can be an engine for social benefit. Institutional research is an almost perfect example of such a gap, and thus an ideal candidate for government support.
The question of federal research funding is one area in which the divide between liberals and conservatives disappears.
Science, as the engine of any high-tech economy, is too important to be left to fickle politics.