Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-62)|
PROFESSOR MALCOLM GRANT, HARPAL KUMAR, PROFESSOR
SIR JOHN SAVILL, AND SIR MARK WALPORT
9 FEBRUARY 2011
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?
I am Malcolm Grant. I am President and Provost of University College
Harpal Kumar: I
am Harpal Kumar. I am Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK.
I am John Savill, Chief Executive, Medical Research Council.
Sir Mark Walport:
I am Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust.
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?
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.
Are you in discussions with any of your sister organisationsthe
other cancer charities?
Harpal Kumar: Constantly.
We work in partnership with many other organisations, although
not specifically in regard to this project.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 obstaclesindeed no particular obstacles at
all. We are expecting to move forward relatively shortly.
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
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?
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
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
movein other words, everything that is fixed in terms of
equipmentis 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
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?
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.
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 LondonI
can understand the arguments for getting the scientists together
and the connectionsbut it is the sheer expense that concerns
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
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?
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
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?
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.
You are not aware of any qualifications on that approval?
I am not aware, but I anticipate that, inevitably, there will
be some clarifications and qualifications because of the sums
of money involved.
I would be grateful if you could notify us of that when it becomes
available to you.
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 happensyou claim to be slightly
earlier than thatfrom 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Gamesone can go on and onsay 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?
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?
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?
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
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?
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
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
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
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.
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, oceanographythose kind of thingsmight
suffer or might lose funding because of the large amount of funding
that the MRC is putting into this project?
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.
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
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
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?
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
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
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 malariathat is at containment level 3but
the parasite is only dangerous if you inoculate yourself. The
same goes for human immunodeficiency virusHIV.
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.
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?
Sir Mark Walport:
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?
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
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?
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?
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.
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?
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
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
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?
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?
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.