Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor A R Bellamy, University of Auckland


  The current NIMR Mill Hill site has many attributes that make it an ideal site for an expanded Medical Research Institute that is partnered with a major London University. The most important attribute of the site is space for the extensive ancillary facilities that are required for modern Medical Research, particularly animal facilities.


  1.  My name is Alfred Richard Bellamy. I am a Professor of Cellular and Molecular Biology at The University of Auckland. I am a virologist with over 35 years experience in biomedical research. Currently I am Dean of Science at the University of Auckland, New Zealand where I direct 12 Departments comprising approximately 650 employees. Biomedical Research forms an important component of our Faculty.

  2.  I am very familiar with the NIMR, having spent a year working there in the 1970s and I have visited the Institute quite often, since that time. During the 1960s, 70s' and early 80s', the Institute was not in a strong position and in some areas was in something of an extended scientific decline. The appointment of John Skehel as Director reversed that trend and Sir John has now established a thriving biomedical culture. I am impressed with the ability of the Institute to attract leading highly qualified scientific staff over recent years. I believe the performance and publication output of staff has been outstanding.

  3.  I understand that a case has been made to the MRC Council that retaining the NIMR on its present site and on its current scale is not compelling and that retention of the Mill Hill site does not fit with the strategic direction of the MRC. And further that the current NIMR location is too isolated from clinical and other academic units to compete and to remain attractive to scientists in the longer term—as it has been able to do in the past.

  I believe that these views overlook the important long-term desirability of achieving a balance between:

    —  A continued strong MRC presence in the Greater London area.

    —  Access to sufficient land for major animal facilities and other space-intensive infrastructure.

    —  The desirability of having access to the very large student base provided by the University of London.

    —  The attraction of London to international researchers and the access available to the many major clinical centres in London.

    —  The presence in London of a very large patient base.

  4.  An initial proposal to relocate a reduced NIMR to Addenbrooke's has now been discarded. From this distance that proposal did not appear to have been adequately investigated or thought through. Despite many years of effort to build clinical linkages between LMB and Addenbrooke's, these are widely known to be fragmentary at best. For whatever reason, topline medicine internationally continues to be located near major medical schools and hospitals located in major urban centres. I do not believe that shifting a reduced NIMR complement to Addenbrooke's would ever have altered that fundamental equation.

  5.  The more recent proposal of 13 October reached by the Medical Council and published on their website is based on the "renewal of NIMR as a multi-disciplinary Research Institute in the London area focused on basic and translational research". I believe that to be a much wiser decision. However I note that in deciding upon a suitable site, the Council Steering Committee will now need to consider what would be required at Mill Hill if that site is to meet the Task Force vision.

  6.  It is my submission that the Mill Hill site retains many attractive features as the site for a renewed and expanded Institute for Medical Research. For its advantages to be weighed against others, will require that the Mill Hill site be compared and carefully costed alongside the other options.

  7.  I believe that such an analysis is likely to reveal that a continued presence on the larger site at Mill Hill would provide a strong "driver", particularly given the need for extensive animal facilities. Provided that the Local Planning Authority is supportive, the Mill Hill site is likely to provide a more cost effective option than would a Central London site.

  8.  Formal identification of Mill Hill as a satellite campus of a major teaching institution such as University College London appears to be an obvious solution. Such an approach would address most of the requirements of the MRC vision, viz: "best science and value-for-money in the broader scientific and health context". I believe that the arrangement I propose would provide many benefits to Medical Research in the United Kingdom while also building upon the wider international research effort in the Medical Sciences generally.

10 November 2004

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