Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor Andrew Garner, University of Manchester


  The high-level strategic mission—including the areas of biomedical research that the institute will focus on:

    —  All research environments, including universities, must sharpen their focus. It is no longer possible to attain critical mass in all areas of biomedical research.

    —  Any national institute for medical research must integrate fundamental and clinical research. The emphasis should be on translational research, including prevention of disease.

    —  A flagship MRC institution such as NIMR should be forcing the pace in key areas of greatest clinical need and working with the academic, health and biopharmaceutical sectors.

  An understanding of the institute's national role, eg, in training and providing centralised facilities:

    —  World leading expertise in a few, clinically relevant research fields will naturally lead to a recognisable role as a national training facility; pre-eminent institutions are characterised by a sustainable "youth team" and an ability to attract "trainees" on an international scale.

    —  NIMR can only be expected to provide a UK-wide service, whether in training or technology, in one or two distinct areas. There are a number emergent fields in which the barriers to entry such that the national can only afford one.

  A description of how clinical links might be strengthened:

    —  Physical co-location of basic and clinical research centres is a major driver of translational research, for example in facilitating patient access and joint appointments/projects.

    —  It is vital that basic and clinical scholars interact on a daily basis and that effort is expended in fostering an interactive environment; physical co-location alone is not sufficient to build strong clinical links.

  An outline of other potential partnership arrangements, eg, with academic research organisations, industry, other funders of biomedical research:

    —  The re-engineered NIMR should work hard to build a range of partnerships in order to increase awareness of clinical and commercial pressures that impact on translation of basic biomedical science into improved clinical outcomes.

    —  Given that Pharma is seeking to work in partnership with the NHS and looks increasingly to academia to outsource basic research, then co-location at a site combining academic, healthcare and industrial sectors could potentially have the greatest impact.

  A specific location and an indication of overall size, structure and major on-site facilities:

    —  Change can be disruptive as evidenced by mergers in the higher educational and pharmaceutical sectors. Whilst the character of NIMR will change, a reinvigorated and more relevant institute is likely to emerge. MRC will need to minimise the impact of change on current high-performing research groups.

    —  Size, structure and ethos will depend on location. It strikes me that three possibilities exist. Remaining in London has some obvious advantages and a move to either Cambridge or Oxford would give immediate credibility.

    —  A more radical solution would be to move from the overheated South-east to the North-west where a comparable environment exists combining the UK's largest university, NHS trust and concentration of pharmaceutical R&D with lower costs, better communications and higher disease burdens.

  Some ideas on leadership and internal governance:

    —  Strong, clinically-minded leadership will be crucial. A charismatic, team-builder who is able devote his or her full time attention to the new institute will be needed.

    —  Performance-based governance that combines a culture of accountability with a tight touch style of management should characterise the institute.

23 November 2004

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