Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Sixth Report


Possessing the high containment laboratories necessary to tackle existing and emergent infectious diseases of both humans and animals is of the upmost importance to the UK. It was ironic that a leak from such a laboratory at Pirbright in 2007 is the most recent demonstration of how devastating infectious disease can be. It is critical that such an incident does not happen again. This Report outlines a number of shortcomings in the way capacity for high containment research is provided and highlights where the Government should take action.

Primarily, we conclude that there is a striking lack of co-ordination between organisations who sponsor and run high containment laboratories. No one organisation or Minister has the remit to maintain a strategic overview of capacity and to co-ordinate these laboratories. There is significant potential for collaboration at a more formal level to assess what facilities are available and make best use of them, identifying any gaps. There is also room for more co-ordination and standardisation of the vetting and training of staff working in this area.

We have identified shortcomings in the funding of high containment facilities, particularly for the significant cost of ongoing maintenance. This must be rectified to ensure the incident at Pirbright is not repeated. A number of high containment laboratories have been neglected and the funding situation is uncertain. The Government must ensure that dependable funding is provided to maintain such facilities safely.

The new regulatory framework to be introduced in the wake of the Pirbright outbreak is a positive step and should provide a framework in which those operating high containment facilities, given sufficient resources, should be able to continue their work to protect the UK from the threat of infectious disease.

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Prepared 25 June 2008