Winston Churchill once said, “those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” While history and historical events will never repeat per se, this quote rather unveils that we must learn from our past mistakes, so we may avoid repeating them in the future. Or better yet, that by being aware of the past, we don’t need to allocate resources in reinventing the wheel. Besides, if we acknowledge the past and look into the present, we will be able to shed some light on what the future may bring, positioning ourselves one step ahead. And this is also true for science.

Research in academia is primarily aimed at fundamental research, that of holistic laboratory innovation. And its main purpose is to explore the borders of science for the altruistic good of humanity, without expecting economic benefits, but pursuing scientific leadership, and the creation of new knowledge. It seems irrational because it demands high amounts of funds and resources while bringing low, or no, returns at all. However, it is necessary, and it covers an essential need that governments are interested in investing in, even when the projects funded present no apparent economic return. The reason is simple. Fundamental research will one day, presumably, be converted into new technologies that will pay off governments and societies by knitting together the creation of new businesses, employability, and quality of life.

According to the shrewd historian Yuval Noah Harari, it would be naive, however, to believe in pure science in the sense that governments, private donors, foundations, or businesses altruistically give scientists the money they require to pursue the projects they fancy. [1] Most scientific studies were funded because somebody believed they could help attain some economic, political, or even religious goal. This has been on the governments’ agenda for at least the past 500 years of modern science. They, and not scientists, have been responsible to dictate the scientific narrative. Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas only because Queen Isabella of Castile funded his voyage, in exchange for the wealth and wonders that trip would render. The risk was immense; the reward, beyond the scope of imagination. If Darwin had followed a different career path, we would probably attribute the theory of evolution to Alfred Russell Wallace, who came up with the idea of natural selection independently of Darwin but just a few years later. However, if the European funds had not financed geographical, botanical, and zoological research around the world, neither Darwin nor Wallace would have had the chance to venture into such ambitious studies. Similarly, in the 1940s, striking results were obtained in the field of nuclear physics––due to the interests of the governments of the United States of America and the Soviet Union in winning the nuclear race.

In recent years, the interest in medicine and drug development has diverted a host of economic resources to fields such as medicinal chemistry, allowing the development of vanguard research in areas that span from synthetic methodologies to potential biotechnological tools. And how do we know it? By taking a quick browse on governmental institutions such as the food and drug administration (FDA), we realize that the rate of new drug approvals has been hovering around 50 units per year (53 in 2020) since 2015, except for the 22 passed during 2016. [2] Increasing from an average of less than five per year before 1950, to an average of 10 per year until the 1980s, at which point it increased to greater than 20 per year. [3] An overview of the scientific publications will as well hint at the increasing interest in these topics, which by the way, are mostly funded by public institutions. For instance, the journal of medicinal chemistry published around 16 000 pages’ worth of manuscripts during 2020, nine thousand in 2010, and roughly five thousand by the end of the 20th century. If we move back to the 1970s the number of pages was under 2 000 in any given year of that decade. [4]

At Selvita, our scientists are well aware of the importance of fundamental research, and we keep a close look at novel protocols appearing now and so often. We harness the new cutting-edge synthetic methodologies to find optimal solutions to address our clients’ needs, avoiding having to reinvent the wheel. Besides, our strong community set-up and broad know-how sharing allow our teams to learn from each other experiences, preventing us from falling into the same past mistakes once and again.


Lluis Llorens-Palomo,
Ph.D. Scientist III Chemistry Department, Selvita
Chemistry Department, Selvita


[1]. Harari, Yuval N. author. Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind. New York: Harper, 2015.

[2]. New molecular entities and new therapeutic biological products approved by the FDA.

[3]. M. S. Kinch, A. Haynesworth, S. L. Kinch, and D. Hoyer, Drug Discovery Today, 2014, 19, 8, 1033–1039.

[4]. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. Archive of Online issues.

[5]. Image Creator: Copyright Office, Stationers’ Company