Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor Christopher Edwards, University of Newcastle upon Tyne

  I am writing in connection with the recent Press Release inviting written evidence in connection with the future of NIMR. My reason for writing is that I have extensive experience of this area, stemming from my appointment as the first Principal of the Imperial College School of Medicine in 1995. I was asked to implement the vision outlined in Sir Bernard Tomlinson's report on London Medicine. In the following five years we were able to effect a transformation of academic medicine in West London with the mergers of St Mary's Hospital Medical School, the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at the Hammersmith Hospital, the National Heart and Lung Institute at the Brompton Hospital and the Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School with Imperial College. The results have been dramatic with markedly enhanced research activity and income, the largest group of 5* research workers in any UK university, major benefits to the NHS with improvement/reorganisation of services to say nothing of the financial benefits to the UK from increased spin-out activity. One of the key driving forces for this was the recognition that modern biomedical research requires the juxtaposition of first-class basic science with clinical medicine. This has to be the most important consideration when determining the future of the NIMR. In this context I would make the following points.

  1.  The UK has a remarkable record of achievement in basic science but a very poor one of translating that research into health or economic benefit. One of the aims of any new vision for the NIMR would be to put it in an environment where its excellence in research is more likely to be translated into benefit.

  2.  One of the major advantages of the mergers in West London was that, after three years, there was no basic science or engineering department in Imperial College which did not have research grants with the School of Medicine. If the NIMR was co-located with a university/hospital I would expect a major increase in the number of collaborative research projects. Currently the 200 scientists and 100 post-docs appear to have about 67 collaborations in London. A close analysis of this would be helpful.

  3.  I am surprised at the small number of postgraduate students (100) at NIMR. Given the size of the scientific staff this is a matter of concern. The staff have no undergraduate teaching and an excellent research environment. Given a new university based environment I would expect the number of postgraduate students to increase significantly. People trained in this environment must be a critical resource for the future of UK biomedical science and commercialisation. In addition, if NIMR was moved then it is much more likely that they could recruit more clinically qualified students to do postgraduate degrees. These students could well be leaders of UK clinical medicine in the future. One of the aims of a new NIMR must be to produce an environment in which young clinicians can be exposed to high quality scientific research and in which senior scientists can interact with clinical medicine. All too often one hears the expression of taking research from "the bench to the bedside". Major pharmaceutical companies are now understanding that many of their very expensive mistakes could have been obviated if there had been more input from the bedside ( ie the patient) to the laboratory bench. This interactive feedback is greatly facilitated by co-location of the basic research and the patients.

  4.  The key question that the Select Committee should be asking is whether the status quo is tenable? If it is not (and I have seen considerable evidence to indicate that this is the case) then all concerned should be prepared to have an open mind in considering future options. The NIMR is too important to the future of the UK biomedical research to allow its future to be determined entirely by its past.

23 November 2004

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