Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor Peter Rigby, Institute of Cancer Research

  I am currently the Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research in London, although I write in a personal capacity. I therefore have considerable knowledge of what it takes to run a research institute that is heavily focussed on translational research.

  From 1986 to 2000 I was a senior member of the scientific staff of the National Institute for Medical Research, serving as Head of the Genes and Cellular Controls (now Genetics and Development) Group from 1986 to 1996, and as Head of the Division of Eukaryotic Molecular Genetics for the whole of my time there. I am therefore thoroughly familiar with all aspects of the Institute's operation.

  In considering the possibility that the Institute might be relocated to a site in central London, the following points should be taken into consideration.

  1.  So far as I am aware, there has not been any challenge to the quality of the Institute's research. Indeed, its activities have, over the past 20 years, been accorded the highest accolades by the peer review committees of the Medical Research Council. Why then, is it necessary to consider radical reorganisation, let alone relocation?

  2.  Since the publication of the Council's unfortunate Forward Investment Strategy, there has been a blurring of the arguments. It is now held that the Institute must focus on a translational agenda. Why is this? My current Institute is intensely translational and I am totally supportive of such work. But it seems to have been decided that all medical research institutes have to be translational. There is absolutely no justification for this. Institutes that do excellent basic research will remain highly valuable, and the simplest survey of the rest of the world will indicate how they are valued. The Council must state clearly why they are of the view that this institute needs to adopt a translational agenda. Many would say that this is the business of its Clinical Sciences Centre (CSC). By embedding the CSC in an academic clinical setting (as opposed to the now defunct Clinical Research Centre next to a district general hospital at Northwick Park) it was hoped this would be the MRC's Institute for carrying out clinical/translational work. The Council should wait to see whether it is achieving these aims, before carrying out experiments on another Institute.

  3.  If translation is to be the name of the game, then the financial consequences must be addressed. It is widely held within the scientific community that the original motivation for the Council's proposals regarding the Institute was the saving of money. Be that as it may, the reincarnation of NIMR as a translational institute will cost a great deal of money. I am struck by the following facts. NIMR has some 800 staff and an annual budget of £28 million. My institute has just over 1,000 staff, it is a little bigger, but its annual budget is £55 million. Why is this? The answer is translational research. To do this effectively requires specialised facilities and the salaries of large numbers of clinicians. So the transformation of NIMR into a translational institute will cost a great deal of money, and it is not at all clear that the Council has the requisite funds.

  The costs of rebuilding the institute in central London will be very large. I have been responsible for rebuilding most of my current institute and can thus be expected to have a reasonably authoritative view of the costs, which will clearly be in excess of £100 million. There is also the unquantifiable cost, both financially and politically, of seeking to recreate the NIMR's animal facilities in central London. The Select Committee should be under no misapprehension, without these facilities NIMR will cease to exist.

  If the funds for such a relocation were to be available, then it is essential that the value for money of such an investment is rigorously contrasted with what could be achieved by investing at the present site at Mill Hill. The Council has thus far been totally silent on the relative cost effectiveness of the various schemes under consideration. The costs and benefits of the relocation should be evaluated against what could be achieved by investment on the Mill Hill site. It would be surprising if the relocation option were to survive such an analysis.

  In summary:

    There is no objective case for a radical reorganisation of NIMR.

    There is no case whatsoever for it becoming a translational institute.

    Relocating it to central London would cost a very great deal of money that could be better spent elsewhere.

    It is essential that the benefits of investing on the Mill Hill site are fully explored.

  I would be happy to expand on any of these points should the Select Committee find that to be of value.

23 November 2004

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