Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Visit to Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research, Porton Down—Wednesday 11 December 2002

  1.  CAMR is a national resource for reference diagnostic services and research into infectious diseases. The Sub-Committee visited CAMR in order to observe the facilities at first hand and to receive and discuss presentations about its functions and future plans.

  2.  Members of the Sub-Committee present were Baroness Emerton, Lord Haskel, Lord Rea, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior (Chairman) and Baroness Walmsley. Professor George Griffin, Specialist Adviser to the Sub-Committee and Rebecca Neal the Clerk of the Sub-Committee also attended.

  3.  The Sub-Committee met the following staff from CAMR:

        Dr Jo Bacon, Dr Tim Brooks, Dr Roger Gilmour, Mr Mike Dennis, Dr Graham Hall, Dr Peter Hambleton, Dr Steve Leach, Dr Graham Lloyd, Dr Charles Penn, Dr Ann Rawkins, Mr Howard Tolley, Mr Ben Walsh, Professor Richard Wise.

  4.  The day proceeded with a number of short presentations with question and answer sessions and a tour of some of the high-security laboratories and other facilities.

  5.  The Committee heard how CAMR had evolved since its inception in 1940 as Ministry of Supply Biology Department through to 1994, when CAMR was incorporated as a part of the Microbiology Research Authority, a Special Health Authority.

  6.  At present, 50 per cent of CAMR's income was from contracts with commercial organisations, 19 per cent came from the Department of Health, 18 per cent was provided by the Ministry of Defence and the rest was derived from other Government departments and Research Councils or charity grants. CAMR had research links with some of these organisations.

  7.  In 2003 CAMR would be incorporated into the new Health Protection Agency.

  8.  Following the outbreak of H5N1 influenza CAMR had prepared a potential vaccine against H5N1 influenza in partnership with other institutions. During the foot and mouth outbreak in 2002 CAMR had performed 20 per cent of the UK's diagnostic tests. CAMR also had diagnosed a significant number of potential anthrax samples in 2001-02.

  9.  CAMR had one of the UK's three 24-hour diagnostic reference laboratories for special pathogens. This facility involved containment Level 4 facilities for research on and diagnosis of diseases such as viral haemorrhagic fevers and anthrax.

  10.  The Committee heard that West Nile Fever was a zoonotic viral disease currently affecting humans in the USA which could appear in the UK. In order to carry out effective surveillance it was important to closely collaborate with veterinary services.

  11.  Mathematical modelling could help with charting the possible spread of endemic infection organisms released by terrorists.

  12.  In 1995 CAMR had established a TB research group which was conducting studies using chemostat, proteomic and microarray technologies and were involved in vaccine research. The group had embraced contemporary molecular techniques. Similar research on vaccines for meningococcal disease was also taking place.

  13.  CAMR was keen to develop a new building on its site at an initial cost of around £30 million which would host work in both vaccine development and accelerated production if the UK faced an outbreak of communicable disease. This building would involve containment Level 4 capacity in order that handling of agents such as Ebola could be achieved.

  14.  There were significant opportunities provided by the creation of the Health Protection Agency (HPA). This could clarify the relationships between the agencies involved in communicable disease control. Front-line staff were essential to an infectious disease service and the HPA must develop good lines of communication with these personnel. It was hoped that the HPA would allow for a more seamless and complete service and should provide a clear focal point for collaboration with international agencies.

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