Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Janet Thornton, European Bioinformatics Institute

  I believe it is essential that the UK has a National Institute as a focal point for medical research. The NIMR has filled this role admirably since its inception and I feel strongly that maintaining the Institute at its current strength is important. As Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute (which is part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory), I see the huge potential in post-genomic biology to change clinical practise radically, with a move towards molecular medicine, leading to personalised high-tech medicine in the not too distant future. In this new world, the UK has tremendous potential to contribute to these changes, through its basic research and the translation of discoveries into medicines and diagnostics. The National Institute should be the flagship, which promotes such work in the UK.

  The building and facilities at Mill Hill provide an excellent place for medical research, built up over many years. Clearly in an ideal world it would be preferable for the Institute to be attached to a clinical research hospital. However given the current location, the enormous cost of moving the Institute, especially to a site in central London and the disruption this would cause, it is extremely debatable whether a plan to re-locate is a good use of funds and will lead to the desired effect. Strong interactions between basic and clinical research do not always follow as a result of co-location. There are many examples of research institutes on hospital sites, which have few interactions with their medical environment. Given current electronic communication and ease of travel, it is the science and the philosophy, which lead to good cooperative and translational work, rather than co-location.

  If the institute were to be re-located, my major concern is that insufficient money would be provided for the move, with the result that it would be effectively down-graded and less competitive. If the institute is not world class, it is not worth funding at all. It is therefore only possible to move the Institute if the government is willing to provide substantial capital to allow this to occur. Moving the Institute will be a huge disruption to all members of staff, including highly trained technical staff, who are unlikely to be willing to travel into the centre of London.

  Therefore to summarise:

  1.  The move should only be supported if the benefits for research and translational work are tangible, which is difficult to quantify.

  2.  Sufficient funds must be provided by the government to do this properly or not at all.

  3.  The institute must remain first class, and receive the long term funding to ensure this.

12 November 2004

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