Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 88-99)




  88. Can I welcome you and apologise for keeping you waiting outside. I believe that you were informed to be here slightly earlier than you needed. No doubt you have made up for that in your preparation time, I am sure that has helped. Can I say welcome Professor McVie, Professor Andrew Miller, I think it is your first time here, and Sir Paul Nurse. Paul and Gordon have been with us before and have helped us in the early stages of this inquiry and have participated in cancer research in this country. Can I say, Sir Paul, well done. When we knew each other first I do not think we ever thought you would end up a Nobel Prize winner but there you go, Paul, well done, we are very proud of you and I am sure you will do a grand job to keep the flag flying.
  (Professor Sir Paul Nurse) Thank you.

  89. Who knows what else will come up? I would like to think that we played a small part in nudging it along politically. This is the process a year later after our report to try to attempt an assessment of where we have got to and we are looking forward to your contributions. If I can start off, as is the convention on this Committee. I remember in May 2000, and this is the heavy one to begin with, Sir Paul told us here "I think if ICRF and CRC had to raise money together then it is a little like the problem of whether you would sell more Omo or Daz if you had a single product called Dazmo. I suspect not." Well, even Nobel Prize winners can get it wrong, Sir Paul. Would you like to tell us for interest historically why this was important, how it came about, the difficulties and so on? We know that you have worked very hard to effect it and I think it is going to be very positive, how do you feel about it?
  (Professor Sir Paul Nurse) Thank you. Both Gordon and myself have been involved from the very beginning, and Andrew more recently, so I will give my view and then maybe Gordon particularly because he was involved at the beginning. It must be said the idea of merger, of course, between the two organisations has been in people's minds. You will remember in evidence we said that the work is complementary and the like. I think the major concern was simply the problem of having two brands and whether if we had a single brand would that cause a difficulty with income. That is a very major problem for us on the operational side because even a five per cent drop in income would be a very significant reduction in cancer research. However, in the background there had been some work going on and, indeed, in parallel with the time a year ago, but it really was not appropriate at that time to talk about it in public, to examine and test that possibility. We, at the ICRF, had meetings with the Campaign regularly at that time and this topic was discussed in a joint meeting and both organisations did say that we should look at it and look at, in fact, the two brand/one brand issue, which was a major point although there were other issues to do with the possibilities of even better research with us both together, but certainly to look at this issue of income. We did a lot of work testing how much we were at risk and the truth is we are at some risk. It is possible that putting the two together will cause a drop in income. However, the general response to our research, which was extensive, and the advice that we took from outside bodies as well was that there was a reasonable chance that, in fact, our income might increase and certainly the received wisdom was that it was unlikely to fall. Given that, and given the enthusiasm from both organisations, and Gordon might wish to comment on that further, we decided, as you know here, to make the decision to merge last month. It will require special efforts on behalf of our fund raisers and we need all the help that we can get—we need all the help that we can get, I repeat—to ensure—

  90. Please do not pass the hat round here.
  (Professor Sir Paul Nurse)—to ensure that this organisation is launched well and gets the support from politicians and the public to ensure that we get through what potentially may be a difficult phase to ensure that we get a good start. I think maybe Gordon would like to add something to that.

  91. Could you say something about did science drive it as well?
  (Professor Sir Paul Nurse) Indeed it did.
  (Professor McVie) The way we prepared the ground on the discussions was to set up three or four topic oriented groups and asked each of them the question "would the cancer patient be best served through putting this research together, given the science arguments, given the finance arguments, given the human resource arguments, given the possible cost savings?" We asked each of these groups what their views were on three options: status quo, partial merger, ie merging the science but not the fund raising or merging the fund raising and not the science, or total merger. Independently these groups came back with an overwhelming merger response. The one that was most important was the science. There was no shadow of a doubt that the timing of the human genome project, its unveiling of the potential to find every single cancer gene, was irresistible. We found when doing an audit of each other's technologies, each other's human resource, that we had a good fit. While we were saying to our supporters and to each other that we were co-operating, I think we can say now a year on that we are co-operating much better and that will carry on into the new charity next month.

  92. So we know you have renamed yourself, but how is it going to look to the public who are often confused where to put their charity money? How is it going to look on the street, are there still going to be two shops in my High Street or is there going to be one?
  (Professor McVie) We will re-brand 50 of the 682 shops in the first week in February and we will have 500 re-branded by the end of the February. 682 is the total, it is just eight short of Tesco's. It is a mammoth job. We are more profitable than a number of High Street retailers, including Marks & Spencer, you will be glad to know.

  93. You are after that job!
  (Professor McVie) We are mindful of the fact that we have been perpetually confused anyway and any market research that we have done has shown there are three names out there: Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Cancer Research Campaign and the most dear to people's hearts is Cancer Research, which is a charity that does not exist. It is about to exist from the beginning of February, Cancer Research UK will become that third charity. We hope that we will osmose and assemble all the people out there who thought we were there all along.
  (Professor Sir Paul Nurse) Can I pick up on the science reasons because there are a couple of other points worth making. One is that as a national organisation we can take on training in a very big way. One of the major hurdles that we identified that is limiting progress is the appropriate skilled labour. As two separate organisations, although we both did things, we were still only covering part of the UK. We now cover the entire UK and we can take that on as our major responsibility, to ensure training for both clinical scientists from a clinical background to work in this translational area, this interface between clinical work and basic work, and also in the other direction, basic scientists to promote them to look at clinical problems. Furthermore, we can also take on the issue of national recruitment and international recruitment because we have a shortage of appropriate trained people and having a single organisation, a single focus, will allow us to have a national policy on recruitment and to use our muscle to attract the best people from overseas. That is already beginning to work. The second point worth saying, and Gordon commented upon it, is that the infrastructure is very expensive for modern biomedical research, it is becoming quite big for projects like the human genome for one example. By combining our resources we will be able not only to provide better infrastructure and put the money into these bigger projects, we want to take on the possibility of actually providing those resources across the whole country to all those in different universities and medical schools, which is something that no research council or charities yet manage to do. So we have a national centre and a regional centre that will support the good small research group working in a more isolated university or medical school. We have definite possibilities there and we may be able to make a big difference. The third point on the research side, and I am focusing on the policy and strategy issues rather than specifics, is of course we have greater influence with Government through the committees that we work on as a single body who actually really know what it is about and with the passion we feel for it we think we can influence the research bodies to increase their research spend working in collaboration with us. That is somewhat different than the public face in policy issues, which are also important, but on the science side we should be able to promote better support.

  94. I think we are just so glad it has happened. This Committee last time spent hours trying to get SmithKline Beecham and Glaxo together and it was not as easy as it seems for you. I know it is not easy, there has been a lot of work behind the scenes and I congratulate you. Can I just say, you did mention other charities as well. What is your advice to them? Professor McVie has gone on record many times saying that there are too many small charities, some 600 or more, and I know Macmillan and Cancer Link have merged together. What advice would you give them and how do you see the initiatives in cancer benefiting from further mergers of other groups, not necessarily yourselves but you are the first?
  (Professor McVie) Some of our policies are not yet clearly formulated but we have stated an intention to act as an umbrella for any other blue chip like minded cancer research charity, not necessarily to merge but certainly to associate, to use the resource that Paul has just talked about, to use our grant peer review system because it is expensive for smaller charities to send their grants off to the States to be properly peer reviewed, that sort of thing. As the largest charity in the UK, as of next month, we will be expert on issues such as VAT for charities. We will be able to offer advice on shops etc. This we should gladly do. On the topic of the 814 cancer charities—

  95. It has gone up.
  (Professor McVie) That was last month's total from the Charity Commission. The Charity Commission have been terribly helpful and supportive in all of our discussions and they are pleased that this has gone the way it has gone. They are looking to this model to show to other groups of charities, not just in the cancer sector but particularly in the cancer sector, and say "look, if these two big guys can do it maybe there is some rationalisation to be had if you were to tackle it too". As you say, Chairman, it is not easy but I do believe that it is sensible and I do believe that the general public are seriously confused with this rash of charities out there, they do not understand the difference between the individual charities.

Bob Spink

  96. At the risk of appearing pragmatic could I say that we here have a responsibility, whatever we think of your merger, to try to help you to make it work and to make it a positive move. Perhaps you would like to comment whether we should think about doing an EDM here so that we can inform our colleagues and the outside world. Also, what about you doing a suggested draft press release sent round to all MPs so we can get in touch with our local press and inform them so that people know what is happening and approach this in a very positive frame of mind?
  (Professor McVie) Thank you very much, I will take you up on that. The Chairman of the new charity is Baroness Helene Hayman and she has already offered her services in the Other Place to spread the word, I gather.


  97. We are not too happy with Other Places.
  (Professor McVie) So I gather.

  98. Professor Miller, I am sorry, we have not asked you, would you like to add anything to what has been said?
  (Professor Miller) I just want to say in response to this one that there will be a launch in Westminster which Baroness Hayman will chair. There will also be a launch, of course, in Scotland, which I will chair. There will be a launch in Wales and Northern Ireland as well. There are efforts being made there.

Dr Iddon

  99. Before the merger CRC, I think, spent about £66 million on cancer research and ICRF almost the same, £65.8 million. My first question is will Cancer Research UK be able to spend that combined total on research or will it go down and, if so, when do you think you will be able to spend that? Will it be in the first year of merger or will it be in successive years?
  (Professor Sir Paul Nurse) The first thing that I should point out is the money allocated research is actually significantly greater than that. The ICRF had already available in excess of £12 million more than that but because ICRF developed through institutes we had to, if you like, save up the money so that we could establish an institute. One of the new things that Cancer Research UK will be doing will be to establish a major new Cancer Research UK institute on the Addenbrooke's Hospital site, which is in Cambridge, which is big enough for 300 researchers, so this is a really significant investment, which will sit at that interface between high quality basic research and also clinical research. That is already in the works. Another one that is already being looked at but has yet to be fully discussed is possibilities at the Beatson Institute in Glasgow which may allow us to recruit good people from overseas. That is already something that Cancer Research UK can do to expand its activities. We will have no difficulty in expanding our research but what we need to ensure is that the money comes in to allow us to do that. There are many opportunities out here for doing really good work that will make a real difference to both the patient and also for reducing occurrence of the disease in the population as a whole, so prevention measures as well. Our understanding of cancer is much improved in the last decade or so and we need to translate that knowledge into better practice. We have real opportunities we are able to deliver if we can get the support. We do in addition, of course, need the proper collaboration and co-operation with other bodies, including Government ones, which may be something you will want to explore perhaps later.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 20 March 2002