Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor Sir Philip Cohen, University of Dundee

  As the Director of a Medical Research Council Unit, I would like to add a few thoughts about the current debate as to whether NIMR should stay where it is or whether it should relocate to a Central London site. I apologise for being slightly past the deadline, but I understand that your committee will accept late submissions.

  Firstly, I would sincerely hope that the MRC will not be criticised for considering this possibility, which I believe to be timely for the following reasons. NIMR is not in a great location. I think that most people would agree that it would be much better if it were embedded in a Higher Education Institute and/or a Research-active hospital. Proximity to an HEI would greatly extend the range of its scientific interactions and create critical mass in particular areas that can be so crucial to setting up collaborations with the Pharmaceutical and Biotech industry.

  Proximity to a research-active hospital would expose it to the clinical culture that it lacks at present and encourage more doctors to undertake research training, the lack of which has been a major weakness in the UK medical system for many years

  Although everyone would agree that NIMR has a number of excellent scientists, it is not nearly the force it once was and its value for money can be questioned. For example, I recently commissioned ISI to compare the MRC Unit that I direct with the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology (LMB) and NIMR in terms of the number of times scientific papers published over the past 10 years are quoted by other scientists in their own publications. I then divided the number of citations by the annual cost to the MRC of funding each centre. NIMR came far below LMB (and even further behind my own Unit!).

  NIMR needs an increased commitment to translational research, and hence wealth creation, in which its track record is relatively weak. My own Unit is involved in one of the largest collaborations ever undertaken between the Pharmaceutical Industry and a UK research institution. The collaboration not only involves the eight different research teams in my Unit but five other research teams working in complementary areas, who work in close proximity to the Unit in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee. The critical mass created by these 13 research groups has been critical to the success of this venture.

  My personal view is that the LMB is really Britain's NIMR, and I am also concerned that two of the three MRC Institutes in the UK (at NIMR and Hammersmith) are both located in London. I can see significant advantages for UK Biomedical Science as a whole if only part of NIMR moved to Central London (for example virology and immunology where obvious synergisms with clinical research are possible) while other research teams working in areas that lack critical mass at NIMR would be best relocated in MRC Units or University Departments elsewhere in the UK to create critical mass and so stimulate early-phase translational research.

23 November 2004

previous page contents next page

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 8 February 2005