It's been 50 years since microbiologists Selman Waksman and Albert Schatz discovered streptomycin, the first effective treatment for tuberculosis, in their laboratory at Rutgers University. While prestigious research groups at the Bayer Co. in Germany and Sahlgren's Hospital in Sweden had labored for years to find a cure for the deadly disease, it was the comparatively humble Rutgers team who succeeded.

At first glance it seems almost miraculous that an ill- funded academic laboratory at a university without a medical school, led by a man without a medical degree, would succeed where better-funded and better-credentialed groups had failed. But the story of streptomycin's discovery is the story of university-industry cooperation at its best. It's a paradigm that federal officials and health-care reformers would do well to consider seriously in approaching such present-day scourges as AIDS.

One obvious lesson from Waksman and Schatz's achievement is the potentially enormous value of basic...

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