Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 64

Memorandum from Anna O'Garra, National Institute for Medical Research

BRIEF EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  I provide evidence in the document attached to the Science and Technology Committee, House of Commons, inquiry into the future of the Medical Research Council's (MRC) National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) and thank the Select Committee for the opportunity to do so. In brief, as head of Division of Immunoregulation, NIMR. To summarize, although I welcome changes that enhance the future development of the NIMR, a major concern is that a move to central London is unlikely to retain the key features of the Mill Hill site that have determined and will determine its success in multidisciplinary research and clinical translation in biomedical research. The major concerns are that:

    (a)  Dismantling an Institute such as the NIMR by a move to Central London promises to stifle an important future need for UK. Biomedical Research by reducing and restricting the Animal Facilities and Expertise, as well as the Containment Facilities that currently exist on the Mill Hill site.

    (b)  Movement of the NIMR is likely to result in the exodus of many of its scientists, many to locations abroad.

    (c)  Restricting the interactions of the NIMR with one London Institution by placing this MRC Institute within the confines of one University/Hospital could greatly reduce its collaborations with clinical research laboratories. My own experience (please see below) and those of other NIMR researchers, is that it is very easy to set up productive collaborations with a vast number of London and other UK Institutes/Universities (ICH, UCL, GKT, Imperial College, London—to name but a few, and other countries including developing countries such as in Africa and Asia) from the Mill Hill site. This is completely in keeping with the MRC Vision.

  The reasons stated above and the overall cost of relocating the NIMR to a new building in central London, beg the question—are the MRC's plans for the renewed NIMR justified by hard evidence and will they really benefit Biomedical research in the UK? I am greatly concerned that the Mill Hill site has been excluded as an option for future development, and by the procedure by which this and other key decisions have been made with respect to the future of the NIMR.

1.  Background

  I worked at the DNAX Research Institute, California, USA, (owned by Schering Plough, NJ, USA) (from 1987-2001), studying cytokine gene regulation and its effects on the immune response. In 2000, I decided to move from DNAX. Despite offers from several other institutions in both the US and the UK, I accepted a position as Head of the new Division of Immunoregulation at NIMR. The major objective of this division is to interface basic immunology research with the study of infectious diseases. In particular, I am committed to researching the immune response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) infection (identified as a critical disease area by the MRC), with the emphasis to further our knowledge on mechanisms of cure.

  A major reason for my choice of the NIMR was its extensive expertise and use of transgenic/knockout mouse technology, which is unsurpassed in any other institute in the UK, and amongst the top internationally. In addition, NIMR has excellent specific pathogen free and containment facilities (Category II, III and IV), which are essential for the study of infectious pathogens such as MTB both in vitro and in animal models. These superb Institute facilities will play a key role in the successful outcome of my research. Thus, the expertise at the NIMR and the excellent secure animal facilities (including available land space for future expansion) form a unique basis for research on the immune response to, and structure of dangerous infectious pathogens.

2.  Concerns regarding a move of NIMR to Central London

    (a)  The Future Needs for Animal Models and Containment Facilities in Biomedical Research. My major concern is that, by moving to central London the level of the excellent animal and containment facilities provided by the Mill Hill site will not be achievable. Full utilization of information from the human genome project will undoubtedly require the extensive use of mouse models to identify the functions of novel genes. Suggestions that there will be a reduction in the use of mouse models for biomedical research (for basic, translational and pre-clinical studies) are completely unfounded. It is clear that there is an ongoing commitment in the use of mouse models for academic, medical and industrial research, which will continue for at least the next 20 years. In immunology, for example, great advances have been made to create mice with many components of the human immune system to advance in vivo studies. Together with the high level containment facilities (Category II, III & IV) at the NIMR, the extensive experimental animal accommodation is essential for continued success of basic and translational research at NIMR. Any conceivable advantages of moving the Institute to central London will be hampered by the inevitable space constraints, which will prevent animal facilities from being expanded as the need requires it, in the future years of biomedical research.

    (b)  Concerns for the security of animal facilities if NIMR moves to central London. It is of great concern that the building of new animal facilities in central London will generate unwarranted attention from the anti-vivisectionist movement which has recently disrupted developments at Cambridge University and more recently at Oxford University, as reported in the Economist, p29, 24-30 July 2004. Although I acknowledge that MRC strategies should not be driven by the activities of anti-vivisectionist groups, I am concerned that building new animal facilities in central London to cater for the NIMR renewed vision would exacerbate this issue creating unnecessary adverse publicity for animal research. This could be avoided by simply supporting NIMR on the Mill Hill site with its existing secure facilities, which could readily be expanded to serve its own needs and also those of other London institutions.

3.  Enhancing translational and clinical research at NIMR does not require relocation to central London

(a)  Examples and Advantages of Collaborations from the NIMR

  I stress that enhanced interaction between basic and translational and clinical researchers is not necessarily achieved by placing them in close proximity to each other (the MRC's own experience at Northwick Park being an example). The most effective and efficient way of achieving this is by funding appropriate shared research programmes aimed to improve and increase training of MD fellows, and cross-disciplinary translational studies.

  Since my move to the NIMR I have established multiple translational and clinical collaborations to study the use of immunomodulators in the treatment of TB and in intervention on allergy and asthma. I provide details of these as examples below:

Use of Immunomodulators to cure TB:

  In collaboration with:

  A E Goldfeld, MD, CBR, Harvard Medical School, USA & Cambodia Health Committee (CHC), Cambodia.

  R Coffman, PhD, Dynavax, USA.

  J Banchereau, PhD, Baylor Insitute for Immunology Research, Dallas, USA.

  D Young, PhD, Imperial College, London.

  G Bancroft, PhD, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London.

  D Robinson, MD, & O M Kon, MD, St. Mary's Hospital, Imperial College, London.

  G. Trinchieri (Schering Plough, France—now NIAID, NIH, Bethesda, USA).

Use of Immunomodulators as therapy for glucocorticoid resistant asthma:

  In collaboration with:

  C Hawrylowicz, PhD, & Tak Lee, MD, GKT, King's College. London.

  These collaborations were set up easily from the NIMR at Mill Hill, within the last three years since I returned to the UK. Importantly, I did not require my laboratory to be embedded in the institutions I am collaborating with. Thus, I suggest that you consider how the research funds of the UK and the MRC would be best used to achieve the MRC Vision, and maintain and increase the UK excellence in Biomedical Research by taking advantage of already existing successful operations such as NIMR and funding enhanced interactions between such research institutes with translational/clinical centres, whilst maintaining the current expertise and advantages of the Mill Hill Site.

4.  Dangers of dismantling the NIMR by a move to Central London

    (a)  Dismantling an Institute such as the NIMR by a move to Central London promises to stifle an important future need for UK. Biomedical Research by reducing and restricting the Animal Facilities and Expertise, as well as the Containment Facilities that currently exist on the Mill Hill site.

    (b)  Movement of the NIMR is likely to result in the exodus of many of its scientists, many to locations abroad.

    (c)  Restricting the interactions of the NIMR with one London Institution by placing this MRC Institute within the confines of one University/Hospital could greatly reduce its collaborations with clinical research laboratories. My own experience (please see above) and those of other NIMR researchers, is that it is very easy to set up productive collaborations with a vast number of London and other UK Institutes/Universities (ICH, UCL, GKT, Imperial College, London—to name but a few, and other countries including developing countries such as in Africa and Asia) from the Mill Hill site. This is completely in keeping with the MRC Vision.

  The reasons stated above and the overall cost of relocating the NIMR to a new building in central London, beg the question—are the MRC's plans for the renewed NIMR justified by hard evidence and will they really benefit Biomedical research in the UK?

  These are important practical concerns regarding the MRC proposals for the future of the NIMR. It is somewhat surprising that the expertise of researchers at the NIMR was not regarded by the MRC throughout the whole process of evaluating the future of the NIMR. In particular this would seem important for example in areas regarding animal issues and practicalities for animal research and its future in the next 20 years of Biomedical Research, of which NIMR researchers have great expertise. On this note, I would like to comment finally on what appears to have been a failure throughout the whole process with respect to the MRC evaluation of the possible options for the future of the NIMR. First, conclusions were arrived at by the Task Force and the MRC which apparently had disregarded feedback from (1) the Medical Research Council Task Force on NIMR Consultation with stakeholders, May 2004; and (2) the opinion of the NIMR staff (from discussions of the MRC with NIMR).

22 November 2004





 
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