Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor David Trentham

  1.  I endorse fully and without reservation the several responses of the Heads of Divisions' Committee, NIMR, to the Task Force and to the MRC Council's preliminary conclusions on the future of NIMR.

  2.  It would appear to be without international precedent for a major and highly successful National Medical Research Institute to have its autonomy reduced as would occur if it were to be relocated within the confines of a University that is itself being required to commit major resources. It is likely that such a move will also be detrimental to the autonomy of the MRC. It is unfortunate that the Council of the MRC is unbalanced with respect to representation from its Research Institutes.

  3.  MRC policy and management of Clinical Research is a major issue. It should be dealt with separately from considerations of the future of NIMR. This does justice neither to Clinical Research nor to NIMR. An MRC Task Force on Clinical Research could well recommend greater participation by its Institutes and Units in clinical research and training but that is a complementary issue to the future of NIMR.

  4.  One of the real privileges of my time at NIMR was to carry out my research in an Institute that has made and is making such a profound contribution to major infectious diseases and particularly those of the developing world. It was especially important to me to see my colleagues in the biophysical sciences have such positive and productive interactions with their more biologically and medically trained colleagues on a day to day basis. Any diminution of this very special character of NIMR, of which the United Kingdom has every reason to be proud, must not be allowed to happen both for humanitarian and political reasons.

  5.  I am aware that the MRC when considering the future of NIMR is proposing to act within a formula that may in a legalistic sense be compatible with the guidelines of the Treasury "Green Book" ( However the spirit of those guidelines, which seek to ensure prudent fiscal management, has not been followed. This Green Book expects several procedures to be adopted amongst which is (Paragraph 2.8); "The "do minimum" option should always be carried forward in the shortlist, to act as a check against more interventionist action." In this context I find quite inexplicable a quotation from the MRC CEO in 17 November 2004 Daily News of The Scientist. One paragraph reads: On the question of the current Mill Hill site being considered as an option, Blakemore said it would "complicate" the process of moving forward. "It was not logical. If Mill Hill was the default choice, then the implication is that nothing else could be considered at any stage in the future." I and I hope the Science and Technology Committee will disagree with this logic—the implication that "nothing else could be considered" does not follow. Furthermore avoiding consideration of the Mill Hill site for NIMR on an equal basis with other options directly contradicts the recommended procedure of the Green Book.

  6.  The MRC is to be condemned for the extremely serious damage to NIMR Staff morale. Amongst several issues are the mixed messages from the MRC that have emanated from the outset of this saga concerning timing of a possible move. To give an example, at his most recent meeting with NIMR Staff the CEO listened to and discussed with them their difficulties in pursuing animal based experiments on the King's College London site, and yet he is quoted in the same November 17 issue of the Scientist Daily News as follows " . . . I would ask them (ie NIMR Staff) to remember two things. One is that the review is about the NIMR in 20 or 30 years' time. Some of them are thinking it's an immediate crisis for them and their work . . . ". It is demoralising and worse to have the CEO give one picture to MRC Staff and quite a different one to the public at large.

  7.  No appreciation so far as I am aware has been made of the continuing major changes that will occur in audiovisual communication and in data and other information exchange. These will surely enhance communication and collaboration of an already interactive Institute from its present site at minimal cost.

  8.  The losses on moving from the NIMR site from both personnel and facilities viewpoints are incalculable. It is incredibly difficult to create excellence but easy to be destructive. The idea that an Institute and its environment such as exist at NIMR can be recreated is possible but I rate the odds at less than one in 100. That a successor to Sir John Skehel will lead NIMR to even greater scientific achievements should certainly be the goal and one that has a reasonable chance of success on the present site but a much lower probability elsewhere.

  David Trentham's background: I have 43 years broad experience in basic medical research and 26 years senior administrative responsibility. I have conducted my research and teaching in many organisations as follows with time in years listed in brackets: Cambridge University (3), Salk Institute (1), MIT (1), Bristol University (11), University of Pennsylvania (7), NIMR (19), King's College London (1). I was elected FRS in 1982, was Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the Medical School at the University of Pennsylvania and Chair of a Cardiovascular Graduate student PhD programme (incorporating MD/PhD students) across the University of Pennsylvania, and have received more than 25 years continuous NIH grant support that together give me significant experience of basic medical research in the USA as well as the UK.

24 November 2004

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