Sponsoring science — successfully?

Sponsoring science — successfully?

256 Immunology Today, voL 5, No. 9, 1984 S p o n s o r i n g science successfully? SIR, DuUens et al. (Immunol. Today, Vol. 5, p. 55, 1984) recently...

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Immunology Today, voL 5, No. 9, 1984

S p o n s o r i n g science successfully? SIR, DuUens et al. (Immunol. Today, Vol. 5, p. 55, 1984) recently commented on the emergence, in The Netherlands, of a new type of research funding, namely 'sponsoring' by banking institutions. These institutions, being at the hub of commercial development, have an inevitable interest in scientific research. Yet, most of the time, their financial input has been indirect, reaching the research worker through industrial concerns. In immunology plenty of research is going on in the laboratories of pharmaceutical concerns or in universities with funds secured through contracts with industry. The novelty of sponsoring by the ABN bank in The Netherlands apparently lies in the fact that money is handed directly to the research laboratory. Also, there is no direct requirement for the proposed research activity to be applicationoriented. This, in particular, is a refreshing sound now that each author of a research proposal is being asked to conceive (not to say to concoct) a vision of how the results of his work could be applied commercially. Though bank sponsorship is still rather new and modest in The Netherlands, Belgium has had a similar system for many years; this is now more elaborate but is still expanding. The most salient example of the sponsorship is the Cancer Research Fund of the Algemene Spaar- en Liffrentekas (ASLK) or Caisse

© 1984, Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., Amsterdam 0167

Ggngrale d'Epargne et de Retraite (CGER). The Fund was created in 1969 to subsidize research programs in the fields of fundamental biology and medicine, especially projects focusing on the cellular and biochemical mechanisms of carcinogenesis. Over a ten-year period (1972-1982) 600 million Belgian francs (---12 million European Currency Units, ECU) were granted to different research teams situated in nine large research centres, mostly affiliated to universities. The merits of this operation have been proven by the high standard of the emerging scientific work: the unravelling of the genetic structure of SV40 (Gent), the elucidation of the role of interferon in natural host defense (Leuven), the unravelling of the structure of bovine leukemia virus (Bruxelles), a n d the development of rat hybridoma monoclonal antibodies (Louvain) are just a few immunology-related examples. It is generally recognized that without the A S L K / C G E R Cancer Fund, cell biology in Belgium would have stagnated at an embryonic stage. Another example of sponsorship is the support given by the National Bank of Belgium to a special fund created in 1971 to support scientific research, cultural projects, humanitarian initiatives and education. The yearly budget of this Fund has fluctuated between 25 and 40 million Belgian francs (0.5 to 1 million ECU), the larger part of which has been financing scientific research. Direct grants are given to individual laboratories, the only requirement being that the research project has the approval of the University to which the laboratory belongs. Again there is no outspoken discrimination in favour of applicationoriented projects. Nearly half of the support, amounting to perhaps 15 to 30


million Belgian francs yearly, has gone to medically oriented projects. Finally, in 1983 the Belgian National Lottery (Lotto) launched an ambitious program of medical research funding. The first budget amounted to 120 million Belgian francs (2.4 million ECU) and this figure will be increased to 220 million Belgian francs (4.4 million ECU) in 1984. Lotto can hardly be considered as a Bank, yet the size of its financial dealings, and its economic importance for the country, are not inconsiderable. As already pointed out by Dullens et aL, alternative funding is a welcome relief at a moment when governmental thnding is drying up as a result of the economic crisis. It is a further relief that the requirement of immediate or shortterm application is not stipulated by the banks; simple recognition of the funding in publications is recommended. W h y is this so? Is it because, unlike governments, banks are so well-to-do that they do not need make-believe reasons for cutting funding? O r do bankers share with research workers the conviction that applicable break-throughs come from unexpected areas of fundamental research and thus, that all attempts to 'orient' fundamental research to application are intrinsically futile? In this sense, the involvement of Lotto in medical research is symbolic. Great innovations often involve some good luck, or, as Pasteur put it: Le hasard ne

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Rega Institute and Laboratory of Neuroimmunology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Leuven, Belgium.