Such critics begin with the presumption that the federal government must do something about AIDS, because nobody else will. But to date government AIDS researchers have produced precious little in the way of results. Does it nonetheless make sense to regard government research as the best hope for progress against the disease?
Hardly. Even a cursory look at the historical record leads one to the opposite conclusion. The private sector has a long and distinguished record in advancing scientific research. It has been responsible for some of the most significant scientific breakthroughs this century:
· The discovery of the structure of DNA was largely a product of private action. Physician O. T. Avery became the first person to learn that DNA was the molecule of inheritance while working on a cure for pneumonia at the privately funded Rockefeller Institute in the 1940s. “Once Avery had discovered the importance of DNA,” writes author Terence Kealey, “the subsequent development of molecular biology was inevitable — thus the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 became a race between three teams, Linus Pauling’s in CalTech, Watson and Crick in Cambridge, and Franklin and Wilkins in London.”
· The Rockefeller Foundation was instrumental in bringing penicillin to the market as well. Penicillin had been discovered in 1929 by English scientist Alexander Fleming, but most scientists — including Fleming — believed that it was an unstable substance and doubted its medicinal value. Nevertheless, Oxford researchers Howard Florey and Ernst Chain continued to explore the practical applications of penicillin, and in early 1939 they applied to the government‐run Medical Research Council in England for funding. Their request was rejected, so they turned to the Rockefeller Foundation.