Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


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 arise.

  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 considered.

22 November 2004

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