Memorandum from the International Centre
for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
1. It has come to my attention that the
Science and Technology Committee are conducting an enquiry into
the proposed move of the National Institute for Medical Research
(NIMR) to a location in central London. Whilst I am not aware
of the rationale behind the MRC's proposal, I nonetheless feel
that there are several important scientific issues that should
be taken into consideration.
2. As it stands the NIMR is an outstanding
research organisation. Its scientific output is at the forefront
internationally and it is essential that this aspect is not compromised
by the disruption that such a move would entail. Moving this kind
of operation is likely to result in at least one year of "down-time".
In the current climate of highly competitive medical research
this loss of competitiveness would probably be irrecoverable.
3. A major concern to an onlooker is also
the sheer cost of such a move. The current facilities at Mill
Hill are in place and are fully functional. The cost of a conversion/building
programme within central London capable of encompassing an operation
the size of that at the Mill Hill site would clearly run into
many millions of pounds. Considering the tight constraints on
research budgets this seems like a complete waste of taxpayers'
money in redirecting funds to a cause which will not actually
result in improved scientific output.
4. Obviously, having a medical research
Institute affiliated with a hospital has certain advantages when
it comes to pursuing translational research. However it should
also be recognized that in its current location it is ideally
placed to collaborate with many different hospitals around the
UK. There is also a concern that it might become too closely linked
with the hospital with which a site is shared, thus compromising
its perceived independence and its collaborations with other hospitals.
5. Encouraging translational research and
bringing laboratory discoveries to the clinic is what we should
all ultimately aspire to. However, great care needs to be taken
in not trying to make the research product-driven. Most of the
outstanding discoveries within medical research were fortuitous,
and would certainly not have occurred if research programmes had
been too directed towards a given product. Research, by its very
nature, needs to be free to address basic biological/medical problems
from which unlooked-for, but without doubt vital, benefits will
6. A final concern is one of security. The
current site is self-enclosed and has high level containment facilities,
as well as state of the art animal handling facilities. These
aspects are intimately linked. The current problems encountered
by medical research Institutions at the hands of animal activists
should not be underestimated, and acquiring the level of security
required at a central London site would be very difficult indeed.
Likewise, the containment facilities, as they stand, allow the
NIMR to act as one of the major WHO reference laboratories for
global Influenza outbreaks. Whether having such a laboratory in
a highly populated area such as central London would meet with
approval in the popular press is an issue which should also be
22 November 2004