Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Dr Anthony Holder, Medical Research Council

  The proposed move makes neither scientific nor economic sense and may destroy the very areas that the MRC is wishing to promote. Translational research (both clinical and product-oriented) is underpinned by successful basic science—the evidence presented below is from malaria research at Mill Hill.

  1.  As Head of the Parasitology Division at NIMR I am responsible for the area of malaria research at the Institute. The environment at NIMR allows extremely productive interactions with colleagues in the Institute and the adjacent MRC Technology (MRCT). Our research spans basic and translational areas.

  2.  This strong environment has allowed us to collaborate with other scientific and clinical groups world wide, as well as with Pharma, small biotech and diagnostic companies. According to the MRC's own definition we carry out clinical research.

  3.  In addition to funding from MRC, this base has allowed us to compete successfully for funding from The Wellcome Trust, European Union, WHO, US National Institutes of Health and USAID. We have currently submitted by invitation with colleagues, a $20 million proposal to develop new diagnostic methods for malaria funded by the Gates Foundation.

  4.  In the last five years we have:

    —  filed eight patent applications;

    —  identified several targets for antimalarial drug development, of which three will be examined in high-throughput screens for suitable leads (with MRCT);

    —  developed what is one of the best candidate malaria vaccines;

    —  developed a product with a diagnostics company that is used in the Blood Transfusion Service to screen donors for malarial antibody (saving thousands of donations per year); and

    —  produced over 150 scientific publications in high quality journals.

  5.  Without the basic science and the synergy with MRCT these successes would not have been possible. The quality of the current science at NIMR (as evidenced by the on-going five-year reviews) is unquestionable. What has been ignored by MRC is the current extensive translational research that will be jeopardised by their decision. This is the breadth of research that will be disrupted by the proposed move to central London, without obvious benefit.

  6.  If the MRC wishes to build a new institute for clinicians, why do that at the expense of a basic and translational science Institute that is constantly evolving to meet new challenges? Rather than putting money into buildings why not support the very processes that the MRC says it wants to promote? The scientific opportunities described above represent examples of where an organisation serious about translational research should provide the relatively small sums of money required to produce a malaria vaccine in a form suitable for clinical evaluation or support novel anti-malarial drug discovery.

  7.  A brand new independent national institute in central London of a similar size and with facilities better than those currently existing at Mill Hill is very attractive. However, the failure to consider the option to remain at Mill Hill must be seen at best to be irresponsible in view of the preliminary nature of the University bids, and at worst evidence of another agenda, given the fact that the money is not currently available and the huge cost of the move for an intangible gain.

    —  It appears that the MRC has made no proper evaluation of the cost of developing the science at Mill Hill.

    —  The move does not make economic sense, it would cost tens of millions of pounds.

    —  The destablisation involved will undoubtedly result in the departure and loss to UK science of key staff, the money they attract and the training they provide, with the obvious consequences for science, UK plc and human health.

22 November 2004

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