Fred Ledley, Bentley University – What Does Academic Research Contribute to New Medicines

Academic research can provide a big benefit to our health.

Fred Ledley, professor in the department of natural & applied sciences at Bentley University, explores how basic research can be an essential step in finding new medicines.

Dr. Ledley is an opinion leader in the integration of science, business, and education. He has extensive experience as a researcher, educator, entrepreneur, and executive in academia, industry, and government. He is an accomplished leader, with a record of managing successful research initiatives, start-up companies, and progressive academic change.

What Does Academic Research Contribute to New Medicines


Every year, approximately thirty new medicines are approved in the United States. These medicines are developed and manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, who then profit from their sale.

What is the contribution of academic research to this process? 

We recently undertook a study to find out.

Our investigation began by identifying all the new medicines approved in this decade. We then searched for published research related to either these drugs, or their biological targets.

Drugs work by attaching themselves to specific targets in the body. These are usually proteins that are involved in a disease process, or sometimes proteins involved in maintaining health.

Targets are typically discovered through basic research aimed at understanding fundamental aspects of biology; how we grow, how we mature, how our immune system works, or how we think.

This is called basic research, because it is undertaken without specific applications or products in mind…….

….…but it is the essential enabling step in finding new medicines.

Our investigation – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – found more than 2 million research publications related to the medicines approved in this decade. Of these, almost 95% described basic research related to drug targets, rather than research involving the drugs themselves.

This basic research was performed almost exclusively in academic or government institutions, and involved hundreds of thousands of researchers over a span of more than 20 years.

So, what is the contribution of academic research to new medicines?

Basic, academic research made a contribution to every new medicine we examined. It provides the essential foundation for drug discovery, without which there would be no pipeline of new medicines and new cures.

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