Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor Dr Fritz Melchers, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin

  Let me state at the beginning that the NIMR at Mill Hill has an excellent world reputation as a multidiscipline, modern molecular-genetic, cell-biological institution, with important impact on the understanding and management of human diseases. This reputation has been gained in decades of highly exciting, groundbreaking research and has put Mill Hill "on the map".

  I am sure that you have reached a similar conclusion and that your intention is to secure a prosperous future for this excellent institution under the most economic conditions. It is, therefore, troublesome for me to hear that you consider the possibility of either fragmenting the institution into separate sites of a "virtual" institute, or of moving the institution into central London into a place that has yet to be found, and maybe to be built. The first idea of a virtual institute is certain to destroy the essence of a physical unity of communication. Despite the great craze about modern media for communicating (like I do it with you here) there is nothing that equals personal contacts in the discussions on unforeseeable opportunities—and I wonder whether the British culture would ever be able to abandon the "afternoon tea culture".

  Such worries would not exist if you found a place in central London for the NIMR—but you surely agree with me that it will be VERY costly, and almost impossible to realise. Furthermore it adds unnecessary burdens of justification towards the taxpayer in times when money for ALL projects of society are scarce. This option, therefore, appears unrealistic—leading into a situation in which you could be forced to conclude that the institute would have to be terminated since you could not find a place for it.

  In summary, it forces on me the conclusion that "DON'T FIX WHAT AIN'T BROKE". Let me add that I know how difficult it was—and remained—to keep the Basel Institute for Immunology (a companion and friend of the NIMR) in the forefront of internationally recognised, top research places, and what a tremendous loss for this research its sudden, badly contemplated closure has been. Once you have destroyed years of hard developments and constant renovations these achievements are lost—rapidly and apparently forever.

6 November 2004

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