Mind to Market

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Applied Research

In contrast to basic research, applied research is directed toward a specific goal; a solution to a problem. Whereas basic research's mission is the advancement of knowledge, applied research is intended to answer more specific questions. Nevertheless, applied research is still "research" in that it is required to explore new areas of knowledge in order to fulfill its stated goal. Applied research does not imply that the target solution will be found; there are often unforeseen obstacles in reaching the target. However, with a specific target directing the effort there is a higher likelihood of obtaining the goal than with a basic research project.

Applied research fits between basic research and an engineered project. An engineered project has much of the obstacles well defined before the project begins. Although a bridge may never have been built in a certain area, the bridge building technologies and processes have been well developed and don't usually involve large amounts of unexplored territory. Drug development can be considered applied research because it starts with the target of creating a certain response in humans but may also have many unknown effects which are found along the development process.

Basic research is conducted primarily by non-profit research organizations, i.e. government labs and universities which do not require a commercial product as the end result of their efforts. Government agencies may fund basic research at for-profit companies, however, for-profit companies often find it difficult to fund basic research since the profit motive precludes the unfettered advancement of knowledge in favor of advancement of knowledge about an area that may discover a profitable product.

Non-profit research institutions often engage in applied research, sometimes as an extension of knowledge or experience gained through basic research. Because of the experience gained though their basic research, the institution is many times the best qualified to carry out the applied research. However, although they are both considered "research," the skills and processes involved in carrying out basic and applied research are quite different and an institution adept at one may be equally inept at the other. Institutions that are skilled at basic research can resolve this deficiency by transferring their technology to a commercial enterprise who will direct the knowledge obtained from the basic research toward a commercial product. Again using drug development as an example; a research institution may discovery a technology, biological target, novel compound or gene through basic research and transfer this knowledge to a company that will use this knowledge to develop it into a drug for treating disease. Although the discovery of the knowledge is a critical part of the process, it is by no means a certain commercial success. Conversely, a company adept in moving an existing discovery through the drug development process in an efficient, consistent manner may spend many years and millions of dollars trying to come up with a single new discovery. This points to one of the many instances of where creativity and productivity often clash.

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