Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor Simon Howell, King's College London

  I am submitting this document in my capacity as Project leader for King's College London's proposal that NIMR should be relocated to the Guy's campus of King's. It represents my own views; the College will be sending a separate memorandum.


  1.  Our interest in the relocation of NIMR to King's was triggered in the summer of 2003 when MRC Council set aside the recommendation from the Forward Investment Strategy subcommittee that NIMR should move to Cambridge and set up the Task Force to consult and advise further on the future of NIMR. It seemed to us that the excellent science fit between the activities of NIMR and those at King's, coupled with the fact that land is becoming available for redevelopment at our Guy's campus created an excellent opportunity for both organisations.

  2.  Senior staff at King's asked to discuss this idea with Professor Blakemore in July 2003 (after his appointment as CEO of the MRC but before he took up the post) and an (unsolicited) outline proposal was submitted to MRC by King's on 6th October 2003. I understand that several other medical schools contacted the MRC to express interest in the possibility of hosting NIMR and all major medical schools were approached as part of the early consultative work of the Task Force.

  3.  The Task Force consisted of eminent scientists and science administrators from around the world. This group included the head of the Canadian National Institutes of Health Research (Dr Alan Bernstein), a Howard Hughes Institute Investigator at Yale, who formerly worked at NIMR (Professor Richard Flavell), the Honorary Director of an MRC Unit (Professor Kay Davies) and a Nobel laureate with close knowledge of UK science (Professor Paul Nurse). My understanding is that the Task Force had access to the preliminary bid from King's, as well as to expressions of interest from other universities, during its discussions.

  4.  Following a series of interim reports which concluded that NIMR should move to a Central London campus in an academic/hospital environment, London Colleges and Universities were invited to submit formal proposal to the Task Force in June 2004, and if these were short-listed, to present their cases to the Task Force.

  5.  In its final report, the Task Force confirmed its recommendation that NIMR should move to an academic/hospital campus in Central London and recommended that discussions should continue with King's College and University College. This was accepted by Council.

  6.  We are currently preparing a further set of proposals for a deadline of 22 November, and a presentation to Council on 15 December. We understand that Council intends to select a referred bidder at that time.


  7.  I believe that the decision to relocate NIMR to Central London is the correct one. All funders are turning their attention to research that will bring healthcare benefits to the population in the near term predominantly by the application of basic science research into clinical practice (translational research). This requires an integrated hospital/research environment in an area of large population—to provide a range of clinical material. In addition Central London is a magnet for researchers internationally in a way which other cities are not. It is not feasible to alter the focus of NIMR research in this way from a relatively isolated site at Mill Hill.

  8.  In addition true integration onto a hospital/academic campus will yield economies of infrastructure costs for instance library, IT provision, workshops, electron microscopes etc can be operated as a shared facilities yielding substantial recurrent cost savings.

  9.  It is important that MRC keeps to the currently proposed timetable for choice of preferred bidder. This is because there is a real risk of loss of key scientists if the future location is not identified in a timely manner after the decision to close Mill Hill, and locally because there are substantial opportunity costs for delaying planning for deployment of land in our partner's control on the Guy's campus.

  10.  I have been responsible for all the documents prepared by King's and have been present at a number of meetings with MRC staff and consultants to discuss the project as well as presenting our case to the Task Force. To my mind the process has been conducted in an entirely fair, open and transparent way, within the context of what is essentially a competitive tender route for selection of preferred host for NIMR. This inevitably meant that the tender proposals (or aspects of them) are to a degree commercially sensitive, and are not available to public scrutiny.

17 November 2004

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