Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 43

Supplementary memorandum from the Health Protection Agency


  1.  An independent review of the current provision and future needs for high level microbiological containment facilities across the UK for both human and animal pathogens is being conducted under the chairmanship of Professor George Griffin, Vice Principal for Research at St George's Hospital Medical School. Proposals for this initiative initially came from the Medical Research Council who asked the Health Protection Agency if it would be willing to lead the review because of its experience in the operation of high containment facilities for use with human pathogens. The HPA agreed but recommended the appointment of an independent Chair. Other agencies, notably the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have since expressed an interest in the review due to their involvement with similar containment facilities used for animal pathogens.

  2.  The overall purpose of this review is to identify the scientific and technology drivers that may define the UK's future need for microbiological high containment facilities and the consequent future manpower and skills requirements. It will produce advice for the sponsoring organisations to consider during discussions on the business cases and investments needed to support and develop these facilities across the UK. It will also provide advice on opportunities for joint working between the sponsoring organisations. The current terms of reference for the review are:

    —  To obtain, and keep secure, a definitive list of all ACDP CL4 or SAPO4 facilities currently in operation across the UK, their location, capacity and capability in terms of the type work they support.

    —  To obtain information on the life expectancy and plans for refurbishment/new build of these existing facilities, to identify organisations which have an interest in using or providing ACDP CL4/SAPO4 facilities in the future and which may be planning their construction.

    —  To undertake a strategic horizon scanning programme in order to identify scientific and technology drivers that will define future needs and access requirements, in terms of capacity, technologies, safety, security and regulation, over a 10-20 year period. This will also consider the scope and constraints for introducing flexibility and sharing of the facilities available.

    —  To consider possible exemplars in Europe and North America particularly with respect to trends in likely physical infrastructure (suited versus cabinet line laboratories), location (urban versus remote sites) and security requirements.

    —  To identify the manpower and skills requirements for specialist personnel employed in ACDP CL4/SAPO4 facilities and all aspects (including costs) of the reaccreditation of both staff and facilities.

    —  To identify opportunities for collaboration and synergy to optimise effective and efficient provision, and value for money, in delivering UK high level containment needs for research and public health protection.

    —  To submit a review report to the sponsors within eight months.

  3.  The House of Commons Inquiry into Biosecurity in UK Research Laboratories is aware of this review and has requested clarification on a number of points.

What is the structure of the review body?

  4.  The Chair of the Review Body is Professor George Griffin who also chairs the Government's Advisory Committee for Dangerous Pathogens. The Review Body itself currently consists of Professor David Rowlands, Emeritus Professor of Molecular Virology, Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of Leeds, Dr Tim Brooks, Head of Novel and Dangerous Pathogens, Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response and Dr Steve Lever, Head of Biomedical Sciences, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. Dr John Newbold and Dr Mike Paton from the Health and Safety Executive are providing expert advice to the Review Body. The Review is being managed by Dr Peter Greenaway, Director of Horus Research Management Ltd; Dr Greenaway was previously employed by the Department of Health and the Public Health Laboratory Board.

  5.  The review will include a series of site visits to both UK and international microbiological high containment facilities. These will be fact finding missions that will help to set the context of the review and provide a better understanding of how legislative and regulatory frameworks may influence global demand for access to these facilities.

  6.  There will also be a widespread consultation with the widest possible stakeholder groups so that the review can bring together the perspectives of facility operators, regulators, scientists, funders and policy makers, all of whom will have an interest in, or direct experience of handling, human and animal pathogens. To date, some 60 individuals and organisations within the academic, clinical and industrial communities in the UK have been contacted, provided with the current terms of reference for the review and requested to provide their views on the UK's future needs for microbiological high containment facilities. It is anticipated that a number of one to one meetings will be held with some of those who respond to this request.

Who will be represented on the Steering Group/Committee? Are organisations other than the MRC and HPA involved and how?

  7.  The Steering Committee is composed of representatives from the Health Protection Agency, Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Health. Dr Steve Chatfield, Director CEPR and Dr John Stephenson, Director R&D represent the Health Protection Agency; Dr Kevin Moreton represents the Medical Research Council; Mr Brian Harris represents the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; Dr Ruth Lysons represents the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Ms Maggie Tomlinson represents the Department of Health.

  8.  The remit of the Steering Committee is to agree the terms of reference for the review and to oversee all aspects of the review process. The Steering Committee has met three times so far and it is anticipated that it will meet at least another three times.

Who is funding the review?

  9.  The final funding arrangements for the review have yet to be decided however, the HPA, MRC and BBSRC have each agreed to provide an equal share of the overall budget. A financial contribution is also being sought from DEFRA.

To whom will the review report?

  10.  The Review Body chaired by Professor Griffin has freedom to operate as an independent group. It will report its findings to the Steering Committee. Members of the Steering Group and their respective host organisations will be given the opportunity to comment on the review findings. The final review report will contain independent and impartial advice to the HPA, MRC, BBSRC, the Department of Health and DEFRA on the investments needed to support the likely future needs for microbiological high containment facilities across the UK and on the consequent manpower and skills requirements.

Will the review be made available to organisations other than the MRC, for example the Government?

  11.  The review report will be "owned" by those organisations which have made a financial contribution to its production. In this regard the report and its findings will remain confidential if the sponsoring organisations so wish. However, it is anticipated that the sponsors will wish to make the findings publicly available. In addition, Professor Griffin has given an undertaking to share the review findings with the Select Committee.

  12.  It is recognised that there are obvious security implications for some of the information likely to be accumulated during the process of this review. Guidance on this issue is currently being sought from the National Counter Terrorism Security Office but it is considered likely that an Executive Summary or a suitably `sanitised' annotated report, in which potentially sensitive information is removed, will be placed in the public domain.

  13.  In short, it is intended that the review findings and the advice generated will be made available to organisations other than the MRC, including the Government.

When will the final terms of reference be produced? Which organisations will feed into the process of drawing these up?

  14.  The final terms of reference for the review are to be agreed at the Steering Committee meeting on 3 June. The organisations represented on the Steering Committee will be responsible for drawing these up and agreeing them.

What is the timetable for the review?

  15.  The current plan is for the Review Body to report its findings to the Steering Committee by October 2008.

May 2008

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Prepared 25 June 2008