Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor Stephen Tomlinson, former member of the MRC Task Force on the NIMR

  I write to you as a member of the Task Force established in 2003, to review the future of the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) at Mill Hill.

  The first and most important matter I would like to address is the Task Force's vision and its recommendations to the MRC for the future of NIMR. The long-term future would be a renewed National Institute for Medical Research focussing on translational research from "bench to bedside" and indeed, into the community. As a clinician scientist, formerly with a strong laboratory based research interest, I am convinced that in the 21st century, prevention of disease and promotion of good health will have an increasingly high profile, compared with the causes and treatment of disease which have exercised us for the last century. This kind of vision can only be realised in an environment that facilitates multi-disciplinary research ranging from molecular genetics and cell biology through to the impact of the physical, social and cultural environment on susceptibility to disease. The ultimate objective must be to define appropriate and effective interventions that will reduce the incidence and prevalence of ill health. This vision, which can be realised incrementally, is entirely consistent with MRC strategy and indeed government policy. As a specialist in diabetes I have a personal and professional commitment to this approach and I can therefore see how vitally important this will be if we are going to effectively control the developing "epidemic" of diabetes in the future, not only in the UK but also internationally.

  Secondly I would like to address the process (which I understand has been challenged) by which the Task Force reached its recommendations. The business of the Task Force at each meeting was conducted in a spirit of openness, fairness and propriety. Colin Blakemore (Chief Executive of the MRC) in the Chair behaved with absolute integrity at each meeting and between meetings, in order to reach a consensus. My initial prejudice (as you might expect!), being in Cardiff and formerly at Manchester University, was that NIMR should be closed and the substantial resources committed to it each year by the MRC, should be redeployed to Universities throughout the UK. However, I was persuaded by the debate and the strength of the arguments put forward within the Task Force to support the conclusion that NIMR should be relocated adjacent to a full range University associated with state-of-the-art clinical facilities and internationally distinguished clinician scientists in order to realise its agreed vision. Any suggestion that the Task Force, which included several Fellows of the Royal Society and a Nobel prize winner were, in some way inappropriately directed to this conclusion, is, frankly, not credible.

  Thirdly, on the options for the way forward. I had thought, as a member of the Task Force, following our final meeting last summer, that we had reached, not only consensus, but unanimous agreement. Sadly, that was not to be the case, with colleagues at Mill Hill discontent. Nevertheless, the choice based on a competition for the renewed Institute at either University College London (UCL) or King's College London (KCL), in my view was (and is) the correct choice. I personally do not believe that there should be a "fall back" position, with NIMR at Mill Hill being given equal consideration to the two Universities in London because it is inconsistent with the vision agreed by the Task Force and endorsed by Council. If neither UCL nor KCL is able to present an attractive proposal to the MRC, then I believe we should start again with my original prejudice (redeployment of resources) included with any other options that might be considered.

  My conclusions are that we have a clear proposal in place and the Task Force's recommendations were agreed through consensus within the group. Moreover, the recommendations of the Task Force were then scrutinised by the full Council of MRC with objections and counterproposals given a lengthy hearing and proper consideration. Despite these objections, the final conclusion of the Council (and indeed its preliminary conclusion) was to accept the Task Force's recommendations. It is essential that we have a clear way forward in place in time for the appointment of Sir John Skehel's successor as Director of NIMR. We must now move to implement the recommendations of the Task Force urgently and without further distraction.

16 November 2004

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