We generally sort biological research in two broad categories: preclinical/blue skies/fundamental/basic/curiosity driven, and clinical/ translational. The first is about uncovering the underlying mechanisms of biology with more curiosity and a loose idea of how this new knowledge will benefit society. The second is focused on using this knowledge to solve a practical problem with an immediate benefit to society. Many types of research exists but for practicality I will focus on biological research.
Science is a process used to research any topic. However when money is limited, translational science with an immediate benefit looks far more appealing to prioritise. This is a trend we see repeatedly globally, but this thinking is an illusion as both types of research are needed and interdependent.
The benefits of fundamental research is seen many years or decades after the research. They lead to more understanding of the mechanisms of biology. This allows clinical/translational research build on this knowledge to create new products or therapies. They are interdependent, yet clinical/translational research makes headlines and money, whereas fundamental research is more subtle.
Serendipity plays a huge role in science and has been formally studied (Yaqub et al., 2018 ). Sometimes new findings are the solution to a future problem, or they answer a completely different question to the one being asked. Moreover there are a long list of scientific discoveries that came from chance and curiosity, Penicillin, Teflon, the microwave oven, Viagra, WD-40, CRISPR cas, Retrovir and Suramin antivirals to name a few.
Fundamental and basic science are interdependent. Both need to be supported even with tight budgets, otherwise innovation will be greatly reduced.
De Clercq E. Curious discoveries in antiviral drug development: the role of serendipity. Med Res Rev. 2015 Jul;35(4):698-719. doi: 10.1002/med.21340. Epub 2015 Feb 25. PMID: 25726922.