38 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2015

See all articles by Bhaven N. Sampat

Bhaven N. Sampat

Columbia University - Mailman School of Public Health

Date Written: January 5, 2015


Serendipity, the idea that research in one area often leads to advances in another, has been a central idea in the economics of innovation and science and technology policy, particularly in debates about the feasibility and desirability of targeting public R&D investments.

This paper starts from the idea that serendipity is a hypothesis, not a fact. In it, I provide a preliminary report on a study of serendipity in research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). I examine the serendipity hypothesis as it has typically been articulated debates about NIH funding: the claim that progress against specific diseases often results from unplanned research, or unexpectedly from research oriented towards different diseases. To do so, I compare the disease foci of NIH grants to those of the publications and drugs that result.

Keywords: serendipity, medical reseach funding, NIH

Suggested Citation

Sampat, Bhaven N., Serendipity (January 5, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Bhaven N. Sampat (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Mailman School of Public Health ( email )

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