Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Committee Specialist from Dr John Taylor OBE, Director General of the Research Councils, following the Evidence Session of 13 March

  Lord Sainsbury and I gave evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology on EQUAL on 13 March. I agreed to provide the Committee with some additional material on how the Research Councils strengthen areas of research, comparison of USA and UK investment in research and UK performance in the EU Framework 5 programme.


  The Research Councils use a number of activities to develop priority areas for research. As an example the MRC has encouraged and appointed internationally outstanding scientists at senior levels to work in the UK. These include Bob Millar from South Africa as Director of the MRC Human Reproductive Science Unit, Professor Weissamn from Switzerland to the Prion Unit at UCL and Steve Reeders from US to the Medical Ventures Group. MRC have recently introduced an International Appointments Initiative to expand these activities further and will be announcing further appointments later in the year.


  It is difficult to do a direct comparison of UK and USA research in this area based on spend relative to GDP. The USA National Institute for Health spent $486 million in 1997, $598 million in 1999 and plans to spend $610 million through the National Institute of Ageing in 2000. In 1998-99, the Research Councils spent around £63 million on research into healthy ageing and age related disease (this includes MRC spend on cancer and cardiovascular disease).

Spend on
GDP 1998
Spend on
research as %
GERD 1998
Spend on research
as % GERD
63 (98/99)
600 (99)

  GDP = Gross Domestic Product

  GERD = Gross Expenditure on R & D

  Although these figures are only a rough estimate they indicate that as a percentage of GDP, the UK is investing at a similar level to the US in this area of research.


  The indicative budget for the Key Action is some 190 million Euros over four years. The first call has resulted in the funding of 29 projects, at a cost of 40.2 million Euros. Of these, the UK co-ordinate five projects and participate in a further 16. The Commission has not been able to provide details of actual financial commitment for UK participation; however based on proportion of UK participants we estimate that about 7.5 million Euros has been awarded to British partners.

  Areas of research covered include:

    —  Therapeutic approaches for Alzheimer disease and Parkinson's disease.

    —  Genes controlling longevity.

    —  Genetic and behavioural risk factors for age related coronary disease.

    —  Old age and autonomy.

    —  Improved general practice care for older people.

    —  Socio-economic determinants of healthy ageing.

  These are all areas of relevance to extending quality of life and the MRC was fully involved in developing the initial programme.

  The Biomed survey of ageing research in the EU has recently been published. This shows the UK as second only to the US in research presence in this area. A copy is enclosed for your information.[3]


  You may also be aware that an interministerial group was established in June 1998. The Minister of State for Social Security, Jeff Rooker, chairs this group. A full membership list is enclosed at Annex A. The aims of this group are:

    —  to ensure that the needs of older people are better understood;

    —  that action to help them is more effectively co-ordinated across Government;

    —  to avoid duplication and to ensure that account is taken of older people's needs in developing policy.

  The group identified three key areas of action:

    —  Active ageing—looking at practical measures to help older people remain active through work, volunteering, mentoring and supporting families.

    —  Care issues—exploring ways to improve the interface between health, social services, housing and transport.

    —  Consultation and involvement—looking at how Government can best engage with older people at a local, regional and national level.

  OST will be ensuring that outputs from research are reported to this group.

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