UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI) - Science and Technology Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-62)

PROFESSOR MALCOLM GRANT, HARPAL KUMAR, PROFESSOR SIR JOHN SAVILL, AND SIR MARK WALPORT

9 FEBRUARY 2011

Q1   Chair: Welcome everyone. As you know, we gave a commitment when we were first formed as a new Committee of the House that we would undertake a short inquiry into UKCMRI. This is the first formal session of that inquiry. May I welcome everyone this morning and ask the four witnesses to kindly introduce themselves for the record?

Professor Grant: I am Malcolm Grant. I am President and Provost of University College London.

Harpal Kumar: I am Harpal Kumar. I am Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK.

Professor Savill: I am John Savill, Chief Executive, Medical Research Council.

Sir Mark Walport: I am Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust.

Q2   Chair: Thank you very much. May I ask the four of you how much you are each investing in the project and what do each of you expect to get back? Secondly, are there any plans to open the consortium to other interested organisations?

Professor Grant: UCL has been involved in the project since 2004. Our investment in it will be in the region of £45 million, although that may well abate if other academic partners join us.

What do we expect to get out of it? It is the most exciting science project in Britain today. We are a university uniquely co-located with it. Our contribution to it will be through investment in further biomedical research but also, unusually and perhaps uniquely, as a university that also has great strengths in engineering and physical sciences, there is an ability to have a horizontal relationship that introduces a capacity for the institute to work at the interstices of these different disciplines. That also, of course, has a cross-fertilisation for the strength of science at UCL.

Harpal Kumar: Cancer Research UK will be investing in cash terms £160 million into the capital of the project, plus the provision of some facilities at our Clare Hall site for some of those activities that can be carried out off site. In total, that comes to about £180 million of investment. We will, of course, also be funding on an ongoing basis much of the research, or a considerable amount of the research, that will be carried out in the institute once the new building is completed.

For Cancer Research UK, this represents the opportunity to build on what has been for us a tremendously successful research institute that has been for almost 50 years now in the centre of London, in Lincoln's Inn Fields, our London research institute, which has carried out some of the most fundamental work into the understanding of cancer, how it occurs, how it spreads and the factors that drive that. For us this is about the continuation of that work, but much more so it is about making sure that we have access to resources and the creative energy that will enable us to accelerate that progress through the sorts of interactions that will be possible through this new institute.

Q3   Chair: Are you in discussions with any of your sister organisations—the other cancer charities?

Harpal Kumar: Constantly. We work in partnership with many other organisations, although not specifically in regard to this project.

Q4   Chair: I know you talk to them about other things, but specifically, in terms of this project, are there any plans to engage with any of them in the consortium?

Harpal Kumar: Not at this stage.

Professor Savill: The Medical Research Council has invested an awful lot of time, energy and enthusiasm in this project. Obviously, the MRC is a non-departmental body allied to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, so it is spending public money. Therefore, it has to invest very wisely. It is also under scrutiny from Government and from an independent council with an independent chair. We have earmarked £300 million of capital investment into the project, but, obviously, we see a very bright, long-term future for our science, funded at around £42 million per year recurrent that is currently at the National Institute for Medical Research. It has tremendous strengths in infection, immunology, structural biology, neuroscience and developmental and stem cell biology.

  The most exciting thing about this for the MRC is the prospect of added value through interdisciplinarity, joining with other like-minded groups of scientists in creating what will be the biggest and most exciting development in the UK. The MRC's involvement really does signal that this is a development for the UK and not just a corner of London. We are very keen to see interactions right across the UK. Indeed, I have close affiliations with the university of Edinburgh. A university that far away has been consulted and is very keen to be part of the vision.

Q5   Chair: We will be coming on to some of those issues later on. Sir Mark?

Sir Mark Walport: The first thing to say is that this is a very strong partnership. All of our organisations have been involved from the inception. The Wellcome Trust is contributing £120 million in capital, and we expect to contribute to the revenue costs of the science that goes on in UKCMRI. The vision of the Wellcome Trust is to achieve extraordinary improvements in human and animal health, which we do by funding the brightest minds. For us, the vision was obvious from the beginning, which is that this will be a global facility that will attract the brightest minds, that will train them and enable us to achieve our mission and our vision.

Q6   Chair: At what stage are the discussions with Imperial and King's College, and what do they offer to the project?

Sir Mark Walport: The discussions with Imperial and King's are ongoing. We hope that we will reach a position where they are able to join as partners. They are proceeding well.

Q7   Chair: Now that the London Borough of Camden has, essentially, granted planning permission, are there any further planning obstacles to be encountered?

Harpal Kumar: Essentially, no. We are in the final stages of completing the various agreements that go with that planning approval, but there appear to be no significant obstacles—indeed no particular obstacles at all. We are expecting to move forward relatively shortly.

Professor Savill: I would not refer to the Government agreeing the MRC's business case as an obstacle. Throughout the Government have been very supportive of the MRC. I have just heard that the MRC's final full business case has been approved by the Government. I don't know the details as we sit here, but, again, that is a very significant development and good news for the project.

Q8   Chair: Thank you for that. Finally, before I hand over to colleagues, how important is the support of the pharmaceutical sector in this project?

Sir Mark Walport: The issue is one of partnership. If we are to translate the products of discovery into benefits for humans in terms of new preventive strategies and new treatments, then partnership with the pharmaceutical industry is a key element in that. The pharmaceutical industry is supportive. I know that you have received a submission, for example, from GSK.

Q9   Stephen Metcalfe: Good morning, gentlemen. Could you run me through the overall funding? You have said how much you are putting into the project. Can you tell me what the headline figures are in terms of capital expenditure and then ongoing annual expenditure?

Harpal Kumar: The overall project cost is estimated at about £650 million. We have each told you what our individual contributions are to that. If you add those up, those will add up to £650 million. Of that £650 million, about £85 million was the land purchase. The bulk of the rest, obviously, is associated with the construction, all of the associated professional fees and a reasonable level of contingency given the complexity and nature of the project.

Q10   Stephen Metcalfe: What do you get for your £650 million?

Sir Mark Walport: A flagship institute.

Q11   Stephen Metcalfe: What does a flagship institute look like? From my reading of the report, this is about people and brains. I want to know what you are getting for your £650 million.

Sir Mark Walport: It is an environment in which those brains are going to be able to pursue state-of-the-art research for the 21st century. First of all, it is going to be an environment that encourages interactions internally and externally, so its location near to great teaching hospitals is extremely important. It will have the state-of-the-art facilities that scientists need, such as confocal microscopes, imaging equipment, all of the essential equipment, much of which is now individually very expensive.

Q12   Stephen Metcalfe: The equipment that you are talking about is included in the £650 million?

Sir Mark Walport: There will be additional equipment costs over time. You don't equip an institute just like that from scratch.

Q13   Stephen Metcalfe: For clarity, how much of the £650 million is for bricks and mortar as opposed to equipment?

Professor Savill: If I can clarify that, the £650 million is essentially to deliver the building and some of the fittings. There is a separate tranche of funding that will be needed for equipment and other transitional costs. Again, the MRC's contribution to that will be some £65 million in addition to this. These are good questions, but I'd like to say that all four of us travel internationally and we see the scale of investment that our competitors are making internationally. While these sums are eye-wateringly large, they are commensurate with the kind of investments we are seeing in Singapore, the USA, Germany or China. We believe that this is an appropriate scale of investment. I hope you would agree with that.

Harpal Kumar: I would like to add two comments. First of all, on the equipment point, one of the ways that we tend to describe buildings like this is that, if you turn them upside down, everything that doesn't move—in other words, everything that is fixed in terms of equipment—is included within the cost of the provision, so within the £650 million. All fixed equipment would be included within that figure. Anything that is moveable tends not to be.

In answer to your other question, this will deliver a project of a scale that will be certainly one of the largest, if not the largest, institutes in Europe. That is important because it gives us the opportunity to create or facilitate some of the interactions that hitherto have not been possible, whether between biologists and other scientists, whether between people working on cancer and other diseases, whether in terms of the access to the technologies that we are going to be able to provide in this institute that, individually, is much more difficult for us to do because of the cost of doing so.

Q14   Stephen Metcalfe: I might come back to that in a minute. What will be the ongoing cost per annum of running the institute?

Sir Mark Walport: We are estimating about £100 million as the baseline, but it is likely to be much larger than that. This is an institute where the scientists will write grants. They will have the capacity to raise research funds from the whole diversity of UK funders, the European research councils and the national institutes of health. It is impossible precisely to define that now, but we are talking about a baseline of, probably, around £100 million.

Q15   Stephen Metcalfe: I think the project as an institute is very valuable, but I do have great concerns about the amount that is being spent on building a site in the middle of London. I cannot quite grasp why that is so important. I understand that when this project was first identified in 2007 the world was a different environment. We now live in a much more challenging economic state. Have you looked at alternatives to spending this money, because it strikes me that that capital investment could be much better spent on putting people outside London and on equipment and research rather than on a very grand project, which might have been great three years ago but perhaps does not quite tick the boxes now? There are sites that have become available recently. For example, there is the Pfizer site in Sandwich. Have you looked at alternatives outside London? Have you looked again at the Mill Hill site?

Professor Savill: Can I answer that because, in one way or another, I have been involved in this thinking since 2002, when the MRC first decided to review its major investment sites? Very careful thought was given to where the best place to have a major interdisciplinary institute would be. We took international advice. We consulted widely. There is unanimity on central London being an attractive site because of its international connections and its attraction to international scientists. If you look at the United Kingdom Clinical Research Collaboration analysis of health research spend in 2006, it shows that 33% of the UK's health research money was spent in London. I think it makes sense to have a high scale institute here. We have looked very carefully at this site and conclude that it is in the right place.

You mentioned Sandwich. One of the reasons why that might have been less attractive for Pfizer is precisely the issue that we face were this institute not to be close to major universities and hospitals. Sandwich is distant from University College and other London colleges. It is distant from the major teaching hospitals. The MRC is absolutely clear that we have given this matter very close scrutiny. Don't forget that this project has received scrutiny and approval from the previous Government. It has received scrutiny during the Comprehensive Spending Review when very hard decisions were taken by the Government about where capital investment should be made. It continues to be scrutinised through events such as this. These are important questions but we have been thinking about them at the MRC for nearly nine years now.

Sir Mark Walport: You need to look internationally as well. Science thrives best in a clustered environment where there is actually a critical mass of scientists from different disciplines and hospitals. Look at Boston, where there is an enormous cluster which has developed around Harvard and MIT. UKCMRI is positioned at the absolute heart of the cluster in the south-east, so there are the London colleges, Stevenage, Cambridge and the Sanger Institute just up the road, with Oxford not far to the west. It is absolutely in the right place. It is at the heart of what will be the south-east cluster.

Professor Grant: I would add another issue in relation to the funding, which is that this, uniquely, is levering about £300 million of charitable contribution to put alongside the Treasury investment. It is a consequence for highly successful science in Britain that has brought together a partnership of like-minded investors. This is not wholly a taxpayer-borne cost.

Q16   Stephen Metcalfe: I appreciate that, but it is still money being spent on a facility rather than on research. You said, Sir John, that you wanted this to be a development for the whole UK. You don't think that we should look again at that. You are absolutely convinced that this has to be a very expensive building in the middle of London—I can understand the arguments for getting the scientists together and the connections—but it is the sheer expense that concerns me.

If that is the absolutely correct solution to the problem, how robust are your finances now in the light of the fact that land values and things like that have changed, and in terms of getting this project fully funded, and who carries the can when, perhaps, it overruns or the money doesn't add up?

Sir Mark Walport: It is not going to overrun. We have done the estimates very carefully. We are starting the contracting process. We are confident that this will be delivered on time and in budget.

Q17   David Morris: Who has the final say on decisions within the consortium? Who controls, for example, the finances, staff matters and the scientific vision?

Professor Savill: In setting up this institute, there was a long discussion about how it could be governed. Again, after careful thought, we arrived at the right conclusion as a set of four stakeholders, and that is a single form of governance with a single director. That director reports to the board of UKCMRI, which is now in existence and is chaired by Sir David Cooksey. Ultimately, the board of the UKCMRI, which is now recognised as a charity, commands the institute and our four organisations are stakeholders in that new charity.

Q18   David Morris: If it is going to be a charitable company limited by shares, how are the shares going to be divided between the four partners? Is it going to be 25%? How would other partners come into it and how would the shares be divided up accordingly?

Professor Savill: Again, it is set out in great detail in the joint venture agreement which Government scrutinised and allowed the four of us to sign back in the autumn. Again, if you need further written information, we can provide that, but it is in the JVA.

Q19   David Morris: Who appointed the professional team to manage the consortium in the first place?

Sir Mark Walport: We came together as a partnership. We have appointed an executive team. We have created a charitable structure that is now in existence. The board exists. There are very clear lines of governance with a very strong executive team who you will be seeing in a week or so.

Q20   David Morris: Has the final business case been submitted to the MRC or BIS yet? When do you expect to hear the outcome of the BIS consideration?

Professor Savill: The MRC submitted its final full business case to BIS in early January. This has been scrutinised by Ministers and, as I mentioned earlier, I have just heard that the Government have approved it, although I have not yet seen that in writing because I have been preparing for this discussion.

Q21   Chair: You are not aware of any qualifications on that approval?

Professor Savill: I am not aware, but I anticipate that, inevitably, there will be some clarifications and qualifications because of the sums of money involved.

Q22   Chair: I would be grateful if you could notify us of that when it becomes available to you.

Professor Savill: I will liaise with BIS. I am sure that can be done.

Q23   Gavin Barwell: I want to ask you questions about the planning and construction of the centre. As I understand it, your intention is for the building to be handed over in the third quarter of 2015. In one of the submissions that we have received, that has been described to us as a "tight timeline". How confident are you of delivering that and could you give me some milestones along the way by which one could measure progress towards that deadline?

Harpal Kumar: Assuming that what John has said about the MRC business case approval is confirmed, then our expectation is that there will be a start on site in May of this year. Very broadly, we are expecting a two-year construction period and then a two-year fitting out and commissioning period, which gets you the four years. In fact, we are expecting that the building will be handed over some time in the first half of 2015. The occupation will start some time thereafter, obviously. That gives you a broad sense of the timelines. Obviously, it is difficult to be much more specific than that at this stage. As you will also be aware, there has been a tender process under way for the main contractor for this project. All of the discussions with the tenderers have suggested that these timelines are eminently achievable and present no concerns to those potential contractors at this stage.

  As Mark touched on earlier, all of us, as organisations, have been involved in complex laboratory projects, and we have experience of ensuring that they get delivered on time and in budget, so we are pretty confident that this one will be also.

Q24   Gavin Barwell: I want to pick up on a couple of points. When is the tender expected to be awarded for the main contractor?

Harpal Kumar: We are waiting for the MRC business case approval. Once that is done, then we are in the final stages of discussions for the appointment of the main contractor. So the answer is, soon. We would hope to have in place the first agreement by around March.

Q25   Gavin Barwell: The briefing that we received said that the full transition would not be complete until 2017 or 2018. Can you give a little bit more detail about what happens—you claim to be slightly earlier than that—from the point when, by the second quarter of 2015, you are expecting to get the handover?

Harpal Kumar: Yes. It will simply take some time in logistical terms to transfer something of the order of 1,200 to 1,500 scientists and associated staff into a building of this nature, plus all of the equipment. 2017 is a guesstimate at this stage. It is not something that just happens overnight, obviously. That is taking into account the full-scale completion of all the transition arrangements that have to go into creating this new institute with all of the associated issues, particularly for the MRC and Cancer Research UK, for our existing employees and the related transitions with them.

Q26   Gavin Barwell: Can you just give me a little more detail on that by way of background? Before I was elected to the House, I was a councillor in my home town. I am familiar with the project they have there where they are moving the council HQ and a similar number of employees who are transferring from a number of locations to the new location, obviously not necessarily with all the complex technical equipment that would be involved in this case. Two to three years is quite a long period from handover to the full transition. Would you give me a bit more detail about what is involved in that process?

Sir Mark Walport: I am afraid that you have to look at track records. The largest partnership that we have been involved with, which was a partnership between the Wellcome Trust and the Government, was the building of the Diamond Synchrotron at Harwell, the largest facility built in the UK for very many years, which was delivered on time, in budget and occupied effectively. We will manage the occupation of UKCMRI effectively. It is very difficult to give you precise timescales of a building that will be opening in 2015. We will manage it efficiently and effectively. It is more complicated than an administrative building. There is scientific equipment, there will be some commissioning of instruments and it will take a bit of time. We will do it efficiently.

Harpal Kumar: It is in everyone's interest for that process to be as rapid as it possibly can be, so that will be the intention.

Q27   Gavin Barwell: In terms of the complexities of the site and the construction work involved, am I right in thinking that the lowest floor of the building is actually below the water table level, and there are complexities also in terms of proximity to the Northern Line? Can you say a little bit more about the risk management on those issues?

Sir Mark Walport: All the way through the planning process we have considered all of those contingencies. In terms of buildings near tube lines, that issue has been raised. For example, at University College, just off the Euston Road, there is a combined nanoscience centre where vibrations are absolutely critical. It is within yards of the tube line. Modern technology enables that to be handled without difficulty. This has all been thought of.

Professor Savill: If I could reinforce that point, you will note that in the submission that the NIMR director made that 42 members of NIMR staff have been involved in the scientific planning. I have had the opportunity to speak to the director of research who leads on nuclear magnetic resonance analysis where vibration is a potential issue, and I have been personally reassured that the expert scientists are completely happy with the provisions. Again, as Mark said, there is a very useful example.

Q28   Chair: It can be addressed. We accept that. We have seen plenty of examples of that ourselves in this Committee. We have recently been to CERN as an example. However, Sir Mark, you drew your comparison with the building of the Diamond Synchrotron. Let's face it. The geological environment is much more simple where the Synchrotron was built than in London. How can you be so certain that that analogy is a fair one?

Sir Mark Walport: Because we have done it before.

Q29   Chair: No, you haven't done it before, or not on that scale.

Sir Mark Walport: The answer is that there were special measures that had to be taken for the Diamond Synchrotron. For example, the concrete there had to be impregnated with barytes. This was a facility where the electron beam had to be managed within microns. The answer is that this is hi-tech engineering and it can be done. It can be done in London, it can be done at Harwell, and we have done it on the Euston Road at the nanosciences centre.

Q30   Gavin Barwell: I have one final question, which, rather than about the building itself and the planning of the building, is about its contribution to the wider community of which it is going to be part. The vision document talks about its contribution to the regeneration of the King's Cross area and the potential for holding community events there as well as research. Can you tell us a little bit more about how the building will be integrated into the local community?

Harpal Kumar: Through the planning process we have been in discussions with the London Borough of Camden about a whole range of ways in which the institute will interact with the local community. We have now agreed a range of provisions through that process that go all the way through, from the establishment of what has been called the Living Centre within the building itself, which will be available to the local community and largely driven by the local community in terms of precisely what provision will be in that space, to a very active programme of engagement with local schools, both in terms of scientists going out to schools as well as providing public space within the institute to engage people with the science that is going on within it. I won't go on at length but we have had a range of discussions about how this institute will interact with the local community, provision to improving local housing, local energy schemes and so on. There is a range of aspects of this.

Professor Grant: I would add that there has been a lot of interaction regarding the design of the building. The original design of the building had an air of impermeability about it. The design has been worked up, and I have to pay tribute to our relationship with the Camden planners in trying to put here a building which, despite its bulk and mass, none the less has a permeability and an openness that previously it did not have in its first iterations.

Q31   Graham Stringer: Sir Mark, Committees of this House have heard people in charge of projects from the Jubilee Line, Wembley Stadium to the Olympic Games—one can go on and on—say that those projects were going to come in on time and on budget. None of them did. Why should we accept what you are saying? I understand the issues you talked about of engineering and science, but you are not totally in control of the London building market, are you?

Sir Mark Walport: We have built contingencies into it. I am afraid you have to look at track record. There is no use saying that, because a series of projects haven't come in on time, therefore all projects will not come in on time.

Q32   Graham Stringer: No, I am not saying that. I am not arguing about it.

Sir Mark Walport: If you look at our track record, the Diamond Synchrotron did come in on time and in budget, the headquarters building of the Wellcome Trust on Euston Road, which is a very large building, came in on time and in budget, and the extension to the Sanger Institute which we built, which is a major scientific institute outside Cambridge, came in on time and in budget. The answer is that we intend to bring it in on time and in budget. Can I guarantee that events outside our control won't conspire against us? No; no one can guarantee that. I can't predict the future. It is much easier to predict the past. It is in all our interests to deliver this project. We have paid great attention to governance. We have a very strong executive team to whom you will have the opportunity to speak. We will do our level best to do it on time and in budget. I can't say more than that.

Q33   Graham Stringer: What is the size of the contingency?

Sir Mark Walport: I would need to write to you with the precise figure.

Q34   Graham Stringer: You don't even know it as a percentage of the project, when you are being so precise about it coming in on budget.

Sir Mark Walport: It is 15%.

Q35   Graham Stringer: 15%. That is helpful. If something goes wrong, as you have acknowledged that something could go wrong, whose head is on the line?

Sir Mark Walport: It has a very clear executive structure. Governance is absolutely clear. It has a board, an executive and proper mechanisms for accountability. One of the attractions of this partnership to the Government was the strong track record of public-private partnerships of this sort delivering in the science arena.

Q36   Graham Stringer: We have heard that this is an appropriate site because of its connections to teaching hospitals and some of this country's great universities. I understand that. But what were the arguments for a relatively small site of 3.6 acres? Isn't that a difficulty? Can you run us through the arguments for and against using a site that is relatively small?

Professor Grant: Shall I start? The original proposal was for the group at NIMR at Mill Hill to join us at UCL. The site that had been chosen for that was the National Temperance Hospital site in Hampstead Road, which was significantly smaller; indeed it was under one acre. As we worked through our proposals in the years 2004 and 2005, it became increasingly clear that on that site we would not be able to absorb the activity from Mill Hill, let alone future expansion. By 2007, it had become clear that the site that we had long looked at, which was the land at the rear of the British Library, would be coming on the market. Previously, we had had to strike it off our list of options because it was not available. When it came on the market, it opened up for us an opportunity not merely to re-locate Mill Hill but also to bring in with it the CRUK laboratories from Lincoln's Inn. With financial assistance from Wellcome and with engagement from ourselves, we managed to piece this together. 3.5 acres in the middle of London is not an easy site to find or to piece together.

Secondly, the co-location is absolutely vital. The major teaching hospitals with which we are co-located, within a quarter of an hour's walk, are UCL hospital, Great Ormond Street, Moorfields, the Royal Free is nearby, the Eastman Dental hospital, the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear hospital and, of course, UCL itself and our other colleges in London. So trying to get a combination of co-location and suitability of site meant that this was the best game of the lot.

Q37   Graham Stringer: Can this site expand?

Professor Grant: No. There is very limited scope for expansion on the site. However, as the institute grows and succeeds, we would envisage some satellite operations, UKCMRI branded, but potentially at UCL, Imperial, King's or with other partners. There is an ability to ensure that the science which grows within the building itself is also continued and supplemented elsewhere.

Q38   Graham Stringer: How will space be allocated within the building?

Professor Grant: A critical decision was made at the outset that this was not simply to be a co-location of different laboratories. The decision was taken that this would be one institute and that it would be under the guidance of a single director whose responsibility it would be to set the scientific priorities, to recruit the teams and to allocate the space.

We, as an investor in this institute, do not command any specified floor area. It is critical to understand that. This is not an acquisition of floor space. This is a right for us to support research in the institute for up to 100 seconded staff from UCL. We are happy to put those staff under the direction of the director of the institute.

Q39   Graham Stringer: The implication of that is that there won't be a bidding process from the different organisations for space. It will be centrally directed.

Professor Grant: Indeed.

Harpal Kumar: Absolutely. So the director of the institute, the first of which will be Sir Paul Nurse, will establish the scientific strategy. The scientific programme will determine who needs to be given space in the building in order to accommodate that scientific programme and will allocate space and other resources accordingly, entirely driven by that programme and strategy, which, of course, will be signed off by the board of UKCMRI but entirely driven by what Sir Paul Nurse determines is the right programme of research.

Q40   Graham Stringer: It was mentioned earlier in questions from the Chairman that you envisage linking up, potentially, with universities and research institutions outside of London. Can you expand on that a little?

Professor Savill: Yes. Perhaps I could address that because prior to taking up the MRC role I had been the head of the medical school in Edinburgh for nearly 10 years. The science planning committee that was chaired by Sir Paul Nurse before his appointment as CEO was scrupulous in engaging all the medical schools and universities in the UK in discussions about how we could interact with a major facility such as this. Obviously, Edinburgh is 350 miles away.

If I can just go back to your insightful questions about space, restricted space actually confers a discipline on the institute. One of the objectives of the institute is to seed talent right across the UK. This is not a place where people are going to spend their whole career, by and large. What they are going to do is spend an early part of their career at the institute and then, I very much hope, seed biomedical research right across the UK. In Edinburgh, for example, we have a very strong programme, co-funded by the Wellcome Trust, in training young clinical academics to PhD level, but we tend to want to send them away for their post-doctoral training. Frequently they go to the USA or Europe at the moment. The availability of UKCMRI as a place for these young folk to go for a few years is very attractive. I imagine if we were sitting in this room in 15 years' time that we would be able to trace a whole load of living links right across the UK from the institute to the major research-intensive universities and medical schools. The space does determine that discipline and it will drive these very desirable living links because people will leave.

Q41   Stephen Mosley: Earlier you very briefly mentioned the scientific vision. I know that Sir John in the last question mentioned the scientific planning committee. Could you briefly explain how your scientific vision was formulated?

Professor Savill: From my perspective, this has been done by a collegial process involving scientists directly likely to move and other expert scientists under a then independent chair. It is relatively early days in the scientific strategy because, obviously, to secure the funding the proposals are going to need to be seen in more detail. For example, at the moment, the MRC is only just scrutinising the existing NIMR programme of research, which we have to do every five years. The bones of the strategy exist. You will have seen them in the submission and the flesh will come as we move towards establishment and occupation. Clearly, from the point of view of two major funders, we will have to scrutinise proposals very carefully to make sure that we are going to get the best value for money. It is a little early to be expecting precise details.

Harpal Kumar: Perhaps I could add a couple of words to that. From very early on in the genesis of this project the four partners decided that we wanted some strong scientific advice from around the world on the vision for this institute and so we formed what was called the science planning committee. We asked Sir Paul Nurse to chair it. As I am sure you will be aware, Sir Paul is currently or just finishing as President of the Rockerfeller university in New York. At that point he had not been thought of as the first director and he had not been appointed as President of the Royal Society. So he was an appropriate choice as a Nobel Laureate to lead this thinking. He enlisted a team of scientists from across the world to advise on this project. That included scientists from NIMR and the London Research Institute as well as from Wellcome and UCL, but it also included people from the US and other countries around the world. They then sought other advice through less formal interactions but they came together as a group a number of times to develop this vision that you have now seen.

Q42   Stephen Mosley: You mentioned the two major funders: Cancer Research and Wellcome. In our pack we have some very good quotes from Cancer Research saying that the UKCMRI will "significantly accelerate progress in the fight against cancer." From the Wellcome Trust we hear that you think it will generate "breakthroughs in knowledge and innovations that will enable major advances in health." We also have comments from GlaxoSmithKline that talk about "improved patient and economic benefit for the UK." How do you think the UKCMRI will drive forward the translation of research into the wider benefits?

Sir Mark Walport: If I could just add a qualification to what you said, there are three major funders, of course. There is the Medical Research Council as well. These are the three largest research funders in the UK. We absolutely share the vision. It is about understanding human biology in both health and disease. The answer is that when discoveries are made that have the possibility of application, and an obvious example would be the MRC invention of the technology that led to monoclonal antibodies, which has translated into many therapies that have generated billions of pounds in revenue and treated many diseases. There are many opportunities arising, for example, from the Cancer Genome Project at the moment to develop new therapies for cancer.

  As I said earlier, predicting the future is always a difficult thing to do, but it is the nature of the science that comes out of institutes such as UKCMRI. The philosophy will be, wherever possible, to recognise where there is a potential for application and to do that. That will involve collaboration outside the institute, in the hospitals around the country and with industry, because it is a complex ecosystem in terms of translating something from a basic laboratory discovery into a health benefit. It is an explicit part of the mission of UKCMRI.

Q43   Stephen Mosley: You mentioned the possibility of billions in revenues from some of the treatments that have been developed. How will the intellectual property be managed within the UKCMRI?

Sir Mark Walport: The intellectual property will be held by the institute itself. We expect that it will be managed effectively for the benefit of humans.

Q44   Stephen Mosley: Within your submissions and also today you have made much about this weird cluster of people whom you will be bringing together in generating a critical mass of research and staff. Is there any documented evidence that clustering scientists together does facilitate better research? You talk about the cluster, but then you do talk about the wheel and the spoke model that you want to develop in future. There does seem to be a bit of a contradiction in those ideas.

Sir Mark Walport: The best evidence is if you look at the major research discoveries and see where they have come from. If you look at the strengths of the Bay area around San Francisco, around Cambridge and the universities of London, that is where discoveries originate. They tend not to come from isolated environments.

Professor Savill: Researchers are often criticised in the lay media for discovering what everyone knew was obvious in the first place, but there is a peer-reviewed paper which says that colloration is the best form of driving collaboration and added value. Again, we can submit that to the Committee, which might help you. So there is published evidence on that.

Q45   Stephen Mosley: Sir John, wearing your research council hat, is there a fear or a danger that other sciences, whether it is zoology, ecology, astronomy, oceanography—those kind of things—might suffer or might lose funding because of the large amount of funding that the MRC is putting into this project?

Professor Savill: Yes. That is a good question. I can reassure you that that is not the Government's plan. They recently published a detailed booklet with the allocations to the research councils. You will have seen that they managed to maintain flat cash in all the other six research councils. MRC did a little better with flat real, in part because of the need to co-align with charities and with the Department of Health. Of course, the capital component actually came from the Department of Health, which was an unforeseen but very welcome piece of cross-departmental support from Government. In terms of whether medical research would suck money out of astronomy or animal science, the answer, categorically, for the next four years, in this spending review period, is no.

  If I can go further, your question also would test the degree to which within the MRC there might be over-concentration of funding into UKCMRI. In terms of the headroom that we have to commit, we heard earlier from Mark that the notional running figure is about £100 million a year. If you add the two notional elements from the two main funders together, that is over £80 million. So we are looking for another £16 million to £18 million. The MRC can make new commitments of nearly £400 million each year. Going back to Mr Stringer's question, the space confers a discipline. It will stop money being sucked into this thing because it is only so big. We have given a great deal of thought to that in the MRC.

Q46   Chair: Can I push you a little further on that point, Sir John? Stephen Mosley and I heard an extremely good lecture last week by three medical physicists. Amongst them was Steve Keevil from across the river, and Carl Rowbottom from The Christie. There was a third chap from Gloucester whose name slips my mind at the moment. Among other things in their presentation, they were focusing upon the advances there had been in radiation therapies and less invasive techniques such as proton therapies and so on. As I recall, they were saying that there are 29 or 30 such centres around the world but none in the UK yet. Does this kind of investment in your project militate against such developments in the UK?

Harpal Kumar: Not at all. You may or may not be aware that there is a piece of work under way at the moment with the intent to deliver two proton therapy centres in the UK. Those have already been allocated, one to UCL and one to The Christie, with a possible third at Birmingham. That very directly answers the proton therapy question. But if I can broaden that question out a little bit, radiation therapy is continuing to go through a very considerable amount of development in terms of the more targeted nature of it for cancer patients. There is a huge amount of work going on right across the UK, which is in large part funded by Cancer Research UK, but the Department of Health funds a considerable amount of work in that area as well. The new technologies are absolutely being both developed and adopted across the UK. There is great promise for further development of radiation therapy and there are a number of potential new developments in looking at new particles for delivering radiation in different forms to different tumour types. All of that work is currently being assessed and planned for. None of it is precluded by what we are doing here at UKCMRI. Indeed, it is going on in parallel.

Sir Mark Walport: Indeed, the work in UKCMRI ought to facilitate this because actually physics is a major contributor to the understanding of biological science. Discoveries made in UKCMRI will have to translate into new therapies.

Q47   Roger Williams: Neighbours of the proposed development have been very concerned about biosecurity and other safety issues. How have you been able to assure them that the facility will be safe and secure?

Professor Savill: If I can explain, I have been in post as chief executive only since October. I, personally, have not had the chance to talk to local folk. Obviously, considerable efforts have been made by the consortium to initiate those discussions. People in the area have been ill served by some very alarmist reporting that we will all have seen in the media concerning the potential biohazard that the research we anticipate UKCMRI doing would confer on the area.

The first thing to emphasise is that, if there were some problem with the escape of hazardous organisms, the first people to be exposed would be our scientists. We are responsible for them and, therefore, we are absolutely determined to do everything we can to ensure that the very best levels of containment are delivered.

If I can walk you through one or two of the organisms that we would need to study, it illustrates that the hazard might not be as great as is feared. For example, there is an important programme in malaria—that is at containment level 3—but the parasite is only dangerous if you inoculate yourself. The same goes for human immunodeficiency virus—HIV.

Obviously, we all know that tuberculosis is infectious and serious but it can be treated. I would be confident that I have been exposed to tubercle bacilli in the London Underground on the way here this morning. Particularly, the same goes for influenza viruses as well. One has read of alarmist claims that there are other very dangerous organisms that are going to be studied there. They are not and they can't be at the level of containment that we are planning. It must have been pretty difficult if you lived in the local community, you opened a newspaper and you saw these claims. I hope one of the things that your scrutiny can clear up is this unfortunate misunderstanding.

Q48   Roger Williams: One of the things you have to guard against is a deliberate intent to cause harm either by extremist organisations or whatever. How is the building designed to minimise those sort of risks?

Sir Mark Walport: We have been aware of all of these issues. There have been extensive discussions with security advisers and the Metropolitan Police, and we are satisfied that the building design will manage all of the risks. As John Savill says, the organisms that will be studied in the building are organisms that are studied in many laboratories in the United Kingdom in city environments. There are many category 3 facilities scattered around research institutions in cities. The term "category 3" reflects the fact that health and safety is taken very seriously. It is managed in a very secure way.

Q49   Roger Williams: This facility will be very close to some important strategic hubs of people being moved around in transport facilities.

Sir Mark Walport: That is absolutely true, because as John Savill has just pointed out, the risks of infection are far more from people outside of facilities by people travelling around. Influenza and tuberculosis is in the community, but malaria is not a disease that is in the UK. So there are no new principles at stake here.

Professor Savill: If I can further reassure you, I hope, I took the trouble to get some numbers from the Health and Safety Executive. There are 781 containment level 3 facilities licensed in the UK, with probably well over 100 in Greater London alone. There is nothing particularly unusual about this facility. I think it has rather been blown out of proportion. I understand the concerns. Clearly, any major building in London, including the one we are sitting in, is a terrorist target, and that has been carefully considered. I do not think that release of the organisms we are going to study at the dose one would find would constitute a major chance for terrorists to inflict harm.

Q50   Roger Williams: You have told us that you propose to use level 3 biohazard elements in your research work. Can you confirm now that there won't be any level 4 biohazards in this facility?

Professor Savill: Absolutely, correct.

Sir Mark Walport: Correct.

Q51   Roger Williams: I visited Pirbright shortly after the release of the foot and mouth virus. It seemed to me that the prosaic rather than the spectacular was the cause of many of these virulent materials. One of the problems on the Pirbright site was that it was not only a Government facility but there was commercial activity going on. In the end, nobody took responsibility for the release, which I thought was very unfortunate considering the commercial damage that had been done. You have quite a complicated partnership set-up here. Who is ultimately responsible for safety?

Professor Savill: If I can answer that, this was one of the factors that led us to agree that we needed a single structure and a single governance. Health and safety was crucial in this. There is a single structure, a single governance and a single director. Although the genesis of that single body may look complicated, it is going to be one thing with one person ultimately responsible. That was one of the considerations in the beginning so as to avoid this uncertainty.

Q52   Roger Williams: Will it be a nominated person who is responsible for this?

Sir Mark Walport: The chief executive will be responsible for health and safety and we will have a delegated structure as in any good research institute.

Q53   Roger Williams: Can you tell us whether there are going to be any experiments on live animals taking place?

Sir Mark Walport: Yes, there will be. There will be rodents.

Q54   Roger Williams: You will have 1,500 staff. If there had to be an evacuation, where would you put them all?

Sir Mark Walport: An evacuation plan will obviously be part of that. Health and safety involves that, and health and safety will be properly managed. I can't tell you the precise assembly site at the moment, but that will be planned.

Q55   Roger Williams: Apart from scientists and highly trained technologists, there will be other staff employed, such as security, cleaners, maintenance and whatever. How will their record on security be scrutinised?

Sir Mark Walport: Again, there are no new principles for UKCMRI than for any of the other laboratories in London, around the country and in any city. The answer is there will be proper HR procedures for all staff. In terms of health and safety, health and safety is the responsibility of everyone working in a building. Good health and safety management, which will happen, has very clear lines of responsibility and accountability, which all ultimately devolve to the chief executive.

Q56   Gavin Barwell: I am grateful for the answers in relation to biohazard. I think it would be very helpful if one of the things that comes out of our investigation is to provide some reassurance. You said that you were only going to work with up to level 3 agents. The National Institute for Medical Research currently works up to and including level 4. Is that correct?

Professor Savill: It has a facility licence for that. There are some confusions around the particular legislation and whether it is COSHH or SAPO. It is in our submission. Again we can clarify that for you in writing. It would be important to do that. It is clear that the scientific plans will work with the level 3 facility, as Mr Williams drew out earlier.

Q57   Gavin Barwell: Will the work that is done at NIMR now in terms of level 4 go if it is not going to the new centre?

Professor Savill: Would you say that again?

Q58   Gavin Barwell: The briefing we have says that the National Institute for Medical Research currently is licensed up to level 4. So the work that is done at level 4 at the moment clearly cannot come into the new centre because you are only going to work up to level 3 agents.

Professor Savill: We are going to have to look very carefully at the legacy of the NIMR. Again, my understanding is that the facilities available will allow transfer of the work that we plan.

Q59   Pamela Nash: That leads me on to NIMR. Are there any arrangements as yet in place for the closure of the Mill Hill site?

Professor Savill: Again, the first thing to say is that, clearly, this project has been subject to a series of scrutiny events. Indeed, if the business case had not been approved, that might have stopped the project in its tracks. So it is only now that we can be more confident that the project is going forward. As you heard earlier, staff at both of the two major parent organisations have been deeply involved in thinking about the new institute. I recently visited staff at NIMR, met a good number of them at a town hall event and there was much useful discussion and enthusiasm. Obviously, staff will now need to be consulted as we understand how UKCMRI will go forward. Clearly, the human resources departments of both MRC and CRUK will be working closely with staff.

I emphasise staff because the people are the most important asset. They do the science and they are very important. It is important to make sure they understand what is happening and that they can buy into it. Certainly the MRC anticipates that the vast majority of staff would relocate or positions would relocate.

As regards the site, again, we touched earlier on transition. There is going to be a need to decommission facilities and so forth. Ultimately, the plan is that that site would be sold if Government permission is given for that.

Q60   Pamela Nash: Just to go back to staff, I am glad that you have given that reassurance. We received a submission from the national trade union side who expressed concern that they have not yet been consulted on what will happen to the staff. When do you plan on involving the trade unions?

Professor Savill: I made one or two inquiries about that and I am not sure that that statement is absolutely true in that the convenor of the national trade union side was not involved. The crucial point is that we have not been able to consult anyone because we have not reached the point where that is appropriate. We are now moving towards that.

Broadly speaking, all the stakeholders would like to understand the shape of the institute and its staff within the next 15 or so months, so we are moving now into an important consultation phase with staff. Irrespective of the provenance of that submission, MRC could not have consulted with staff because we didn't know the project was going to go ahead.

Q61   Pamela Nash: Are you confident that any uncertainty about the future of NIMR or the future of the staff and their possible positions at the new centre will not have a negative impact on the work that is going on there at the moment?

Professor Savill: I think we are going to have very clear evidence as to whether that is the case later this year because we are engaged, as I said earlier, in the five-year scrutiny, the quinquennial review. If there has been destabilisation of science, it will be very clear in terms of output and productivity. So far, the information we have is that things are going extremely well at NIMR. Having met the staff, there is an enthusiasm about looking forward. It is paramount that we don't lose momentum. I think we will have good evidence to reassure us within a few months.

Q62   Pamela Nash: We will look forward to that. Just briefly before we finish, you mentioned the site at Mill Hill. You said the plan was to sell it on. Are there decontamination issues with that site? Would it be possible just to lock it up and pass it on?

Professor Savill: Decontamination is a strong word. Decommissioning, yes, because in any biological facility or medical research facility you have to be scrupulous about making sure that no hazards are left behind. That will be an issue. It has been part of MRC's financial planning as well because it is part of the transition.

Chair: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your evidence this morning. We look forward to the additional information that you have undertaken to pass to us. Thank you.


 
previous page contents next page


© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 25 May 2011