John R. Vane’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1982
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is sometimes said that the major discoveries have already been made and that there is nothing important left to find. This attitude is altogether too pessimistic. There are plenty of ideas and plenty of things left to discover. The trick is to find the right path from one to the other.
The medicines of today are based upon thousands of years of knowledge accumulated from folklore, serendipity and scientific discovery. The new medicines of tomorrow will be based on the discoveries that are being made now, arising from basic research in laboratories around the world. Fundamental discoveries can and should be made in Industry or Academies, but to carry that knowledge forward and to develop a new drug to the market has to depend on the resources of Industry.
In many countries now, research in Universities is under severe financial restraint. This is a short-sighted policy. Ways have to be found to maintain University research untramelled by requirements of forecasting application or usefulness. Those who wish to study the sex-life of butterflies, or the activities associated with snake venom or seminal fluid should be encouraged to do so. It is such improbable beginnings that lead by convoluted pathways to new concepts and then, perhaps some 20 years later, to new types of drugs.