Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 1

Memorandum from the Medical Research Council

  MRC welcomes the opportunity to share with the Committee its vision for the future of NIMR and to address questions in the Clerk's letter dated 27 October 2004. The vision and rationale is presented in detail in the Report of the MRC Task Force on NIMR published in July 2004. References to the Report are given below (TFR) particularly in section 4.

1.  INTRODUCTION: MRC GOVERNANCE, SCIENTIFIC STRATEGY AND RESEARCH FUNDING POLICY

Governance

  1.1  MRC is a national organisation funded predominantly by the tax-payer and accountable to Parliament through DTI/OST as a Non-Departmental Public Body. Our primary mission is to encourage and support high-quality research and training with the aim of improving human health.

  1.2  MRC  is governed by a Council of non-executive members appointed by ministers following public advertisement. The Chief Executive is a member and deputy chair of the Council.

Scientific vision and strategy

  1.3  MRC develops its own scientific vision and strategy within the wider framework of government science policies. Our research strategy draws on inputs from all main stakeholders and partners in UK and abroad, including the research community. Relevant recent publications included the MRC Vision published in 2003 and the MRC Strategic Plan 2004-07.

  1.4  The Vision, our new Strategic Plan and indeed MRC's SR 2004 bid to Government for funding, all reflect MRC's commitment, following broad stakeholder consultation, to giving greater priority to translational research in future:

    "We anticipate that the research MRC supports will have an increasing relevance to disease, with a greater priority given to translational approaches at the basic/clinical interface".

    MRC A Vision for the future 2003

  The Council will monitor and evaluate the impact of this approach to rebalancing across the MRC portfolio in future, not least in the context of the new Performance Framework for Research Councils. Other countries are seeing a similar push towards bridging the gulf between outstanding basic discoveries and their conversion into innovations that directly benefit patients or prevent disease. This requires a two-way transfer between laboratory work and patient care. MRC has embraced these new challenges: basic research will continue to be vital but we need to demonstrate that we can capitalise on the public's investment in world class basic science with new translational approaches designed to turn research findings into healthcare. The types of research environment in which translational research will flourish were highlighted by MRC, again following broad stakeholder consultation, in the spring of 2003 (the "FIS principles" see appendix 1 and paragraph 3.2 below). A number of UK universities are now developing translational research environments for medical research, with funding from MRC and others. The Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford and the Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College, Hammersmith are two such examples.

Research funding policy

  1.5  MRC has a long-standing policy of delivering its mission through research and training in its own units and institutes as well as in universities. The majority of units and institutes are hosted by or work closely with universities. Predominantly MRC funded and owned, their research programmes are rigorously peer reviewed in competition with research in universities.

  1.6  The population of MRC units and institutes is highly dynamic to ensure that investment matches scientific strategy. For example of the 50 research units/institutes in existence in 1992, 27 have closed, 23 remain (two of these split into two) and seven new units have been opened. This rigorous and dynamic approach to management of the intra-mural programme is sometimes unpopular (not least with staff), however the Council believes it is an essential part of maintaining UK competitiveness in medical research in a fast-changing scientific world. Examples of this strategic dynamic approach in the past, and which is now paying off in terms of calibre of research and researchers, would include the move of the MRC Toxicology Unit from a green-field site (Carshalton) to the University of Leicester, now under the leadership of Professor Pierluigi Nicotera, and the integration of the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College, Hammersmith Hospital now under the leadership of Professor Chris Higgins. A current example, to be announced shortly, is a major new strategic partnership between Cancer Research UK, MRC and Oxford University. This will take the form of a new translational centre in radiotherapy research, partly through a reconfiguration of the work of the MRC Radiobiology and Genome Stability Unit at Harwell.

2.  THE MRC'S NIMR

  2.1  WITH A TOTAL EXPENDITURE OF £32.8 MILLION IN 2003-04, NIMR IS MRC'S SINGLE LARGEST INSTITUTE.

  2.2  FIRST OCCUPIED IN THE 1950S ON A STAND-ALONE SITE AT MILL HILL IN NORTH LONDON, NIMR HOUSES APPROXIMATELY 730 PEOPLE, INCLUDING 520 MRC EMPLOYEES. THE CURRENT DIRECTOR, SIR JOHN SKEHEL FRS, WAS APPOINTED IN 1987 UNTIL 2006. ALTHOUGH MRC HAS INVESTED IN APPROPRIATE REFURBISHMENT OVER THE YEARS, OUR LONG-TERM PLANNING ASSUMPTION IS THAT SUBSTANTIAL INVESTMENT WILL BE NEEDED IF THESE 70 YEAR OLD BUILDINGS ARE TO ACCOMMODATE THE NEEDS OF 21ST CENTURY SCIENCE.

  2.3  NIMR RESEARCH STRATEGY IS TO FOCUS ON THREE AREAS OF BIOLOGYDEVELOPMENT, NEUROSCIENCES AND INFECTIONS AND IMMUNITYAND TO UNDERPIN THIS FOCUS WITH GENETICS, BIOCHEMISTRY, CELL BIOLOGY, BIOPHYSICS AND STRUCTURAL BIOLOGY.

3.  FUTURE OF THE MRC'S NIMR—THE SCIENTIFIC AND POLICY CONTEXT

  The ongoing review of the future of NIMR is part of the MRC's normal approach to forward planning and strategic review of its intra-mural investment. The review also sits within a broader context of external and internal policy considerations—including the following:

  3.1  The Quinquennial Review of Research Councils[1] and the 10-year Framework for Science and Innovation[2] confirm the Government's policy that 3-5 year grants alone cannot deliver a world class science base and that special types of awards may be used by Councils, including intra-mural support in some. However these reports also emphasise the importance of clarity for stakeholders on the criteria for each institute/unit, on robust review and on co-location/partnerships with universities.

  3.2  Prioritisation of major capital investments requiring extensive additional funds from Government is now managed on a cross-Council basis to draw up a strategy for calls on the Large Facilities Fund. As part of its own forward planning, MRC developed a Forward Investment Strategy (FIS) in 2002-03. The findings of the Council Subcommittee on FIS were published for consultation in 2003, articulating some key principles for future environments for medical research ("the FIS principles"—appendix 1).

  3.3  The MRC's focus on translational approaches has been echoed and developed in other in other fora during 2004.[3] These have led to the setting up of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) and the MRC/HDs Research Delivery Group. UKCRC is a partnership involving the Health Departments, the medical research charities, related industry sectors, the medical academies and NHS patients and carers and the MRC. UKCRC is taking a strategic overview of clinical research, gaps and opportunities and co-ordinating initiatives between funding bodies. The aim of the Delivery Group is to achieve greater strategic co-ordination of medical research between the main public sector funders in this partnership.

4.  THE TASK FORCE

Process

  4.1  The Task Force was set up by the Council in the summer of 2003 following publication and consultation on the "FIS principles" (appendix 1) and on the recommendations for future investment strategy at four MRC-funded sites. The FIS report[4] had highlighted the potential for enhancing translational research on all sites and proposed, for consultation, that NIMR be relocated to Cambridge to maximise interactions and synergy with other high quality science in the Cambridge Clinical School and Hospital and at the MRC's Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB)) and other MRC Units in Cambridge. Council endorsed the FIS principles which continue to be used as a template for major new research investments including the new NIMR (see paragraphs 4.4, and 5, below). FIS conclusions in respect of three of the four sites were also endorsed. The consultation had demonstrated some concern regarding the initial proposals for the future of NIMR. Council accordingly saw the need to accelerate development of a vision for a strong scientific future for the NIMR and to consider and consult on a broader set of options for the size and location of the NIMR than those originally proposed by the FIS sub-committee. The Task Force was established for this purpose with members drawn from the Council, the NIMR, and national and international scientists. Membership was agreed by the (initially) joint chairs (the CEO and CEO-designate of MRC) in close consultation with the Director of NIMR. Membership and terms of reference of the Task Force are at appendix 2.

  4.2  An overview of the Task Force process is set out in appendix 2 of its report (TFR appendix 2). Business was conducted primarily at five meetings, with video-conferencing for members who could not attend in person, and frequent telephone conferencing in the last months of its work. Conclusions of each meeting were published on the website together with all related email exchanges between members of the Task Force. Summaries of Council discussions were also published on the website in the normal way.

  4.3  The Task Force consulted at three stages of its work (TFR appendices 2-9). An early consultation with funders nationally and internationally informed initial scoping of possible solutions by the Task Force. It then sought further views from a range of stakeholders who were interviewed by consultants and a written summary of their views passed confidentially to the Task Force. Finally, the formal consultation before the last meeting of the Task Force involved open and targeted invitations to comment on the emerging options and expressed the Task Force's own preference for co-location. The consultation was not intended to be a "referendum": the consultation document stated that the Task Force would take into account a number of separate considerations including: "the results of the consultation; the feasibility of different options and the availability of specific sites suitable to each option and the assessment of different options against the agreed criteria". The Task Force received the quantitative results of the consultation in advance of its final meeting—the independent analyst for the exercise attended the meeting and confirmed that her qualitative analysis of the responses did not undermine the headline results from the quantitative analysis. The Task Force noted the striking difference of views between individuals and organisations on the issues of co-location and it is perhaps not surprising that in its final report the Task Force maintained its stated preference.

The vision for the future of the NIMR

  4.4  The Task Force concluded that intramural research institutes, as exemplified by the best in the world, continue to play an important and distinctive role within the biomedical sciences. The Task Force also noted the increasing complexity of medical research—at a time when the global burden of disease is growing. Consultation and discussion in the Task Force demonstrated a hunger—from among research funders, scientists, physicians and patients around the world—to use the insights of biomedical science to change the practice of medicine for patient and societal benefit. The Task Force was well aware that this has proven difficult to deliver. It took the view, as foreseen in the FIS principles (appendix 1), that future biomedical research environments will need to provide an environment which brings clinical and translational applications to the forefront. Accordingly, the Task Force vision is a multi-disciplinary biomedical research facility focused on basic and translational research.

  4.5  The Task Force further noted that "there is already a significant `clinically-aware culture' at NIMR and a real willingness of scientific staff to engage in the future vision, as evident from both their submissions to the Task Force and from the workshops held during the consultation process" (TFR appendices 5 and 6).

Location of the renewed institute

  4.6  The Task Force gave due weight to the strong scientific track record of NIMR, derived in part from its interdisciplinary collaborations and overall cohesiveness. While the Task Force sought to build for the future, it proposed starting from the foundation of today's scientific strengths at Mill Hill and the contributions these make to the MRC's overall scientific portfolio. Accordingly, the Task Force expressed a strong desire to keep intact a critical mass of the existing excellent science and considered that a location which required a significant number of scientific and other staff to move would put this at risk.

  4.7  However, the Task Force took the view, based on members' knowledge and experience of the growing success of fully inter-disciplinary translational environments being developed in UK and overseas, that the culture shift required for the translational aspects of the mission of the new institute would best be achieved through physical proximity to a teaching hospital. The Task Force accepted that proximity of itself will not necessarily lead to strong clinical links—however they were firmly persuaded that if basic scientists and clinicians are in regular contact they are more likely to make connections between their respective research agendas. They also formed the view that the multi-disciplinarity and critical mass inherent in the vision for the renewed institute would best be achieved through co-location with a university that optimises access to the widest possible range of disciplines relevant to medical research—including for example physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering and the social sciences.

  4.8 The Task Force therefore concluded that moving NIMR to a central London site in partnership with a leading university/medical school would strengthen the institute's ability to deliver its renewed mission.

Financial issues

  4.9 The Task Force took advice from professional buildings advisers on the costs of refurbishment likely to be needed at NIMR in the next 20 years. Proposed partner institutions also put forward estimates to the Task Force for the construction costs of new buildings (TFR section 6). Further work is now being done on estimated costs as part of further development of the business case. Further information will be available once more detailed submissions are received from proposed partners and from NIMR in late November. In the meantime MRC continue to assume that the capital expenditure required is almost certainly greater than we can fully finance from our own resources and that the final proposal will need to go forward to RCUK/OST as an application to the Large Facilities Fund.

  4.10  The MRC's planning assumption for the renewed NIMR is to retain broadly the same volume of research activity. The co-location with a leading university and hospital should facilitate a number of opportunities for sharing of facilities.

5.  CURRENT POSITION AND NEXT STEPS

  5.1  At its meeting in July 2004 the Council appointed Dr Peter Fellner as chair of a Steering Committee of Council members to oversee preparation of the science and business cases for the renewal of NIMR in accordance with the recommendations included in the report of the Task Force. The Steering Committee has met twice so far. Its membership and terms of reference are at (appendix 3).

  5.2  The evaluation of the proposals for the renewed NIMR will be based on the FIS principles (appendix 1). Potential partners for delivering the vision for the new NIMR have been invited to focus on the areas set out in Appendix 4 which have been published on the website.

  5.3 The Council's formal conclusions on the science and business case for relocating NIMR await formal appraisal of the preferred options. These will weigh up the feasibility, costs and benefits of delivering the necessary facilities in central London in partnership with two alternative institutions—Kings College London and University College London. Financial considerations will be one element of the decision-making process. As with any Council decision, the final judgements will be based on getting the best science (with ultimate health output) for resource input.

  5.4 The Council will consider more detailed proposals from the potential partner institutions at its next meeting on 15 December. Further decisions would be dependent on completion and approval of the business and science case early in the new year. In the event of relocation in Central London not being accomplished, the Council has reserved its position in order to be able to reconsider the longer-term future of NIMR and to look at all options afresh.

22 November 2004



1   Quinquennial review of the Grant Awarding Research Councils-published by the Office of Science and Technology in 2001. Back

2   Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-14-Published by HM Treasury (July 2004). Back

3   Bioscience 2015-Improving National Health, Increasing National Wealth-a report to Government by the Report by the Bioscience, Innovation and growth Team; Strengthening Clinical Science-a report from the Academy of Medical Sciences published in October 2003. Back

4   MRC Forward Investment Strategy-published for consultation April 2003. Back


 
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