Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the BioIndustry Association


  1.  The BioIndustry Association (the "BIA") is the trade association for innovative, emerging small to medium sized enterprises in the UK's bioscience sector. Established in 1989, the BIA's mission is to encourage and promote a thriving, financially sound sector of the UK economy, built upon developments across the biosciences, to create economic growth, employment and an expanding skills base. There are over 550 bioscience companies operating in the UK employing over 40,000 people.

  2.  The BIA has over 350 members[6], the majority of whom are involved in realising the human health benefits that biotechnology promises. The BIA seeks to represent the interests of these innovative companies to the Government and regulatory authorities and to present positive evidence based suggestions for policy change that assist a healthy UK bioscience sector and benefit the UK as whole.

  3.  The UK is already a global leader in biosciences, second only to the US, with 18 profitable bioscience companies and over 40 marketed products. The industry employs more than 25,000 people and generates revenues of over £3 billion a year. British biotechnology companies account for 43% of all biotechnology drugs in advanced clinical trials in Europe.

  4.  The BIA welcomes this opportunity to contribute to the Science and Technology Committee's consultation on The Future of the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR). The NIMR performs a vital function currently, but this role could be enhanced to add further value to the research industry in the UK. Moreover, the siting of the NIMR in Mill Hill has always been somewhat quixotic, and we welcome a thorough review of its location.

  5.  This submission addresses three issues which the BIA feel are crucial considerations in assessing the future viability and function of the NIMR:

    (a)  The role of translational research.

    (b)  The future location of the NIMR.

    (c)  The question of co-locating an industrial park with the NIMR at Mill Hill.


  6.  I would like to comment on three specific aspects of the NIMR and its future that I believe the Medical Research Council (MRC) addressed in their review.

The role of translational research

  7.  There is a big gap, in the UK and globally, between what is known in the lab and what happens in the clinic. In part, this is a natural consequence of the inherent difference in the pace of advances in each area, but there are also structural aspects. We are experiencing major changes in our basic understanding of biology and the causes of disease driven by a scientific focus to understand basic biological mechanisms. And yet medicine seems still to have almost an 18th century structure with its practitioners divided into organ-focused specialists so that, for example, inflammation in the brain is treated by a neurologist and inflammation in a joint is treated by a Rheumatologist. There is a fundamental challenge to bring the benefits of research into the practice of medicine (and to have the real day to day challenges of clinicians inform research) and a real role for an institute that would focus on leading that change. With the possible exception of Cancer Research UK, this is not being addressed in the U.K. The US National Institutes of Health are planning to play a big role in this area and the UK also needs to address it.


  8.  The NIMR's location "out at Mill Hill" has always given it a sense of physical isolation. Oddly, it almost seems closer and easier to go from Central London to Cambridge or Oxford than it does to go to Mill Hill. Whatever role the institute has in the future, a Mill Hill location will not encourage collaboration. This would be particularly important for a translational research institute since close collaboration with clinicians and other health/research professionals would be vital. It seems unanswerable that it should be co-located on a site with world-class research and hospital facilities.

Building an industrial park co-located with the NIMR at Mill Hill

  9.  The idea of intentionally planning a significant industrial campus around a research institute to encourage industrial collaboration is not viable. Geography is a less important factor than scientists' personal networks when it comes to establishing new companies or commercialising science generally. The most important thing a research institute can do to attract industry is to be great at what it does. It should also be open to scientists being networked with relevant companies, and more importantly their staff, and themselves being open to the possibility of commercialising their work. If those things are in place, established industry will collaborate with the institute and new companies will form. Some of these may initially want to co-locate with the institute but not enough to justify investment in a site in an expensive area.

  10.  Whilst high tech companies may locate near to where their founding scientists are or want to be, more often they form in areas where they can quickly recruit the right management and staff as they grow, and access networks of colleagues and advisers etc which is why clusters form. Clusters have grown organically and it has proven difficult to intentionally plan them.

  11.  The relative isolation of Mill Hill would be a drawback to the ultimate success of such a research park.

23 November 2004

6   A full list of BIA members is available on the BIA website at Back

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