Memorandum from Professor John Bell, University
The Medical Research Council has an important
challenge in determining the future of NIMR as it represents the
single largest recurrent expenditure for the MRC and, with the
change in Director and the possibility of undertaking significant
capital structure investment to bring it up to date, it is an
appropriate time to consider the strategic issues associated with
MRC investment now and in the future.
In considering the likely demands on MRC strategic
investment over the next 10 to 20 years, it is important to recognise
that the wealth of information emerging from basic science over
the last 20 years has yet to be applied successfully for the benefit
of human disease. There appears now an opportunity to use the
technologies developed in basic science to address some of these
issues and, internationally, the focus is increasingly on the
relevance of basic research rather than basic research for its
own sake. It is unlikely that the MRC will move in any other direction
over the next 20 years. This should not, however, polarise a view
about different types of biomedical science. There are no clearly
defined borders between basic, translational and clinical research.
They all relate importantly to each other and it is this connectivity
which will be important in any model for the future of NIMR.
The central question that the Science and Technology
Committee are considering relates to the size, shape and location
of this national institute. The NIMR in its current location has
several considerable strengths. It has substantial space in which
to develop and grow and has perhaps the best animal facility in
the UK. It is clearly limited, however, by the lack of access
to the major physical sciences (physics, chemistry and engineering)
and the lack of a major teaching hospital with clinical and translational
research associated with it. Despite these substantial barriers,
NIMR has succeeded in undertaking some important translational
research. For example, the Director's programme on influenza is
in every sense translational and of major relevance to human health.
The issue is not, therefore, whether NIMR has succeeded in achieving
some of the goals necessary for a National Institute for Medical
Research, but whether it is optimally positioned or whether it
could be considerably more successful if it was relocated.
My judgement is that the likelihood of improving
the relevance of research activities at Mill Hill and using their
basic science strengths to drive excellent translational work
would be greatly improved by proximity to a major university teaching
hospital. The Institute, for example, has had a very poor record
in training clinician scientists which must be a major goal for
all MRC functions in the future. There is little doubt that the
distance for NIMR from academic teaching hospitals has made this
job much more difficult.
It is formally possible that this National Institute
could achieve this goal if it remained in its current location.
I agree, however, with the conclusions of the MRC Taskforce that,
if one is looking strategically over the next 20 to 30 years,
the current geographical location is by no means ideal and co-location
with other sciences would greatly enhance the performance of the
Institution. One could tolerate a wide range of options here and
much will depend on what resource the MRC is able to spend both
on relocation and recurrent running expenses. I hope these comments