Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex A

  July 2, 2004

  Professor Colin Blakemore, FRS

  Chief Executive

  Medical Research Council

  20 Park Crescent

  London W1B 1AL


  Dear Professor Blakemore:

  Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments in support of the strategic review of the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR). As you know, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has engaged in numerous collaborative projects with this historic institution of the Medical Research Council (MRC) and has valued highly these interactions. I circulated the consultation documents you provided among my NIH colleagues, and there is broad concurrence with the recommendations of the Task Force-especially with the conclusion that continuation of the NIMR is in the best interest of the MRC as well as the international community.

  We wholly support recommendations that the mission of the renewed Institute incorporate basic science and translational research, as well as clinical research, and that it be envisioned as the premier central UK resource for future training in the biological and medical sciences, biotechnology, and bioinformatics. We defer to the UK medical and scientific communities regarding the most appropriate location for this renewed NIMR. Certainly, as the Task Force proposed, we appreciate that a location in central London, close to academic and clinical centers of excellence, would offer distinct logistic advantages for the future development of integrated business and strategic plans for the reconfigured NIMR; but we recognise the cost implications of relocation.

  With regard to the three alternative organizational models being considered by the Task Force, we too prefer Model 2-a single site in partnership with a research university and associated hospital. If the NIMR does expand to incorporate areas of clinical investigation, we believe that this enterprise should build on areas of current scientific strength in the basic sciences among NIMR research groups.

  Attached are additional comments that provide texture to these general comments that I hope are useful. Thank you again for soliciting our views as you move forward.

  With best personal regards,



  Elias A Zerhouni, MD


  Enclosure (follows)


  Similar to the MRC, the NIH possesses the dual mandate of supporting an extramural research enterprise—consisting of support to academic and not-for-profit research centers—and an intramural program housed largely on its central campus. The NIH periodically has reviewed the mission and focus of its intramural research program and has addressed questions similar to those faced in reviewing the prospective directions for the MRC Mill Hill site. In its planning efforts, the agency has tried to take full advantage of those attributes within the intramural program which set it apart from the extramural program and believe these considerations may be germane to your discussion.

  First, the NIH intramural program includes relatively long-term and stable funding. Among other advantages, this provides potentials to pursue highly exploratory or high-risk studies often undervalued in the extramural peer review process. Second, the availability of on-site patient investigational facilities promotes cooperation among laboratory-based and physician scientists; their co-location both has accelerated the movement of scientific discoveries from bench to bedside and engaged biotechnology firms in multiple research protocols. Third, the intramural program has provided an environment where scientists can be mobilized at short notice to respond to urgent scientific challenges, such as an effective vaccine against HIV or investigations of drug resistant pathogens. This has enabled NIH to adapt rapidly to emerging needs.

  These attributes are key considerations in identifying research priorities, which are shaped both by the knowledge and skills of the intramural scientific community and its unique capacity to aggregate multidisciplinary research resources. Moreover, and most importantly, the intramural program has provided a central national locus where scientists from various academic centers work in concert, reaping the benefits of cross-fertilization. One of the most productive aspects of the program has been to attract clinically trained scientists to work with resident scientists expert in a variety of both basic and translational biomedical disciplines. These programs not only have recruited many young physicians into a research career, but often have redirected and reinvigorated the work of physician scientists from academic research centers.

  The NIH recognizes that the review of the NIMR is taking place in the broader context of MRC's Forward Investment Strategy, which examines strategic directions in biomedical science in the context of future capital investment. Over the past two years, the NIH and its community of stakeholders have been engaged in a consultative process, commonly known as the Roadmap for Biomedical Research, to define a select set of scientific and infrastructual priorities essential to accelerate progress in biomedicine. The core premise of the initiative is that the biomedical sciences are converging on a set of unifying principles that link disparate diseases through common biological pathways and therapeutic approaches. The NIH's challenge is to promote an enabling environment to support the pace and direction of discovery and application.

  Given the NIMR's four current areas of research emphases, your discussions regarding the potential of incorporating clinically-oriented programs, and the NIMR's role as an enabling complement to the MRC research supported within British universities, several of the Roadmap priorities may be relevant to the MRC's discussions on the future directions of the NIMR. Detailed information on this initiative is available at The NIH is happy to discuss any of the major areas and provide you with information on the status of the initiatives.

  The NIH hopes this information is useful in considering the role of the NIMR within the MRC's broad scope of investment.


6 June 2004

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