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Commentary |

Fostering Innovation and Discovery in Biomedical Research

Thomas R. Cech, PhD
JAMA. 2005;294(11):1390-1393. doi:10.1001/jama.294.11.1390.
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In today’s scientific era, molecular research has paved the way for the development of pharmaceuticals that are improving the lives of millions of patients. The discovery of the human immunodeficiency retrovirus as the causative agent of AIDS led to the development of reverse transcriptase inhibitors such as zidovudine. Monoclonal antibodies directed against tumor necrosis factor α have changed the lives of many patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Imatinib mesylate, a specific inhibitor of the bcr-abl protein kinase, has transformed the prognosis for patients with chronic myeloid leukemia; and as drug-resistant variants arise, DNA sequencing can identify the mutations responsible and provide a rational basis for further drug development.1,2 In 2004 the first angiogenesis inhibitors were approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, in one case for treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer and in another for age-related macular degeneration.3,4 There is reason for optimism that this is just the beginning, and that the huge investments in molecular biology and genomics research made 10 to 30 years ago will provide an increasingly robust flow of new and effective medicines.

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Figure. Changes in US Biomedical Research Over the Past 25 Years
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A, Source: Office of Extramural Research, National Institutes of Health. B, Fields included are anatomy; biochemistry; biology; biomedical engineering; biophysics; cell and molecular biology; genetics, microbiology, immunology, and virology; nutrition; pathology; pharmacology; physiology; zoology and other biosciences. Source: Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering via WebCASPAR, National Science Foundation. C, Source: Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering via WebCASPAR, National Science Foundation. B, C reproduced with permission.12

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