Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor G Michael Blackburn, Krebs Institute, Sheffield University

  I have been engaged in research into biomolecular science for over 40 years. I have authored over 200 papers in refereed journals, a handful of patents, and two books. I have directed the work of over 100 colleagues (Post-doctoral, Pre-doctoral, Master's students). I have been a founder member of the Krebs Institute for Biomolecular Science in Sheffield University since its foundation and latterly co-Director.

  Over the last three years I have enjoyed research collaborations with leading members of the Division of Protein Structure in NIMR. These have led to publications in Biomolecular Journals of the highest international calibre (Nature, Science, Cell). One of our collaborative activities featured as a "Highlight of 2003" in Chemical & Engineering News (US—December 2003).

  Through the last year, I have been aware of the huge effort that Dr Steven Gamblin has invested into putting a case for the future development of NIMR. More recently, I have read some of the published work of the Task Force, of the contributions of SG, and of correspondence between the Director and Professor Colin Blakemore.

  It is sensible and realistic that the MRC should review the future of NIMR especially in the run up to appointment of a new Director (2006). It is critical for the proper development of MRC Science in the UK that the best plan is identified that achieves a proper balance between the scientific and business needs of the MRC. But it is extremely worrying that the process as described has been tainted with clear signs of haste, pre-judgement, and above all a lack of transparency that undermines confidence in the process.

  I am especially concerned at the decision to exclude Mill Hill from consideration alongside UCL and KCL as potential sites for the future development of NIMR. That decision seems ill-founded both because it appears unlikely that either of UCL or KCL could provide the wide range of high quality facilities available at Mill Hill (not least in animal housing!), and also because KCL closed its Chemistry Department (2003).

  The interface between chemistry and medical biology has never been stronger than at this time. To seek to develop a future for NIMR inside an establishment that has set itself against that future has to be a retrograde step.

  I urge the Select Committee to explore this position with its customary penetration.

22 November 2004

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