FT: Science can’t always be measured by commercial success

This letter appeared in the Financial Times on 13 September 2010

From Ms Lucy P. Marcus.

Sir, The recommendation from Vince Cable that science research should abandon work that is “neither commercially useful nor theoretically outstanding” (News digest, September 8) as part of the UK’s austerity drive has sparked a vital conversation. I believe investment in blue skies research remains essential. It cannot be consigned to the scrapheap to meet short-term cost-cutting measure. We must not abdicate our future simply because not all scientific discovery can be immediately quantified in its commercial value.

In the past, blue skies research was funded from a range of different sources, all of which now face serious constraints on their budgets, and there is a temptation to point the finger at each other when it comes to living up to what is a collective responsibility (and ethical obligation to future generations) for supporting blue skies research.

Part of what makes this investment less attractive is that even where it yields results that have short-term potential for commercialisation, an environment in which scientists and entrepreneurs can translate such results into commercially viable propositions is often missing.

Identifying and nurturing talented scientists and helping them to commercialise their findings requires recognising the opportunities that are generated by results of basic research and creating an environment in which these opportunities can come to fruition.

Early-stage investment funds do not in themselves resolve the problem of who invests in blue skies research, but they can make it a more promising and less daunting venture by helping to contribute to a faster and more reliable idea-to-market process.

Lucy P. Marcus,
Non-executive chair of the Mobius Life Sciences Fund and CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting,
Nottingham, UK

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13 September 2010


Financial Times

Science can’t always be measured by commercial success

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