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

1  Introduction

UKCMRI and the consortium

1. In 2007 the former Government gave its backing to plans to create the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI) at St Pancras in central London. The four founders of the UKCMRI were the Medical Research Council (MRC), Cancer Research UK (CR-UK), the Wellcome Trust and University College London (UCL) ("the consortium").

2. As the UKCMRI's website sets out, the "creation of UKCMRI has been made possible by an innovative partnership between a UK Government funding agency, two charities and a leading university".[1] The UKCMRI, when built and operating, will bring together science teams from the MRC's National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), the CR-UK London Research Institute and UCL. The Wellcome Trust will fund scientists within the Centre, who will also be expected to work closely with researchers from other nearby universities and research-intensive hospitals. The Centre is expected to open in 2015.

3. The biomedical industry is extremely important to the UK economy, accounting for 9% of exports and 28% of business R&D (research and development) spending.[2] The foreword of the MRC's Final Full Business Case for the UKCMRI explains the rationale behind the project: "[the] UK is a world leader in biomedical research. [...] The MRC and UK Government recognise that it is important that this position is sustained in the face of increasing international competition."[3]

4. The UKCMRI has provided a short description of each member of the consortium:

  • The MRC is a publicly funded organisation dedicated to improving human health through world-class medical research. It supports more than 4,000 scientists across a wide spectrum of research to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat disease on behalf of the UK taxpayer.
  • CR-UK is the world's leading charity dedicated to cancer research, supporting the work of more than 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses across the UK. It carries out world-class research to improve understanding of cancer and to find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of the disease.
  • The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving improvements in human and animal health. It supports biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.
  • UCL is situated in the heart of London. It is the most productive centre for academic medical research in Europe and works in partnership with 11 top London hospitals.[4]

5. Our predecessor Committee examined the establishment of the UKCMRI and published a report in January 2008, UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation.[5] The Committee found that:

    The establishment of the UKCMRI is potentially one of the most exciting developments in UK research for some time. It is also one of the most high risk, involving an estimated cost [then] of £500m, including nearly £300m of public funds through the MRC. There is therefore a clear public interest argument that the proposals and their implementation should be closely scrutinised by Parliament. In addition, the former Science and Technology Committee had a long-standing interest in the future of the MRC's [NIMR].[6]

The MRC has provided six-monthly updates on the progress of the UKCMRI since July 2008 to our predecessors and, since the general election, to us.

The inquiry

6. In October 2010 the Coalition Government announced its commitment to the UKCMRI, confirming funding of £220 million from the Department of Health as part of the Spending Review.[7] Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, and representatives of the four partners signed a Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) to establish the UKCMRI on 9 November 2010.[8]

7. We considered carrying out an inquiry in the autumn of 2010. We decided, however, to wait until Sir Paul Nurse, who had been appointed Chief Executive and Director of UKCMRI, had taken up his post in January 2011 as we wished to take oral evidence from him. The UKCMRI project is now at a crucial stage with the Chief Executive in post, Government endorsement given, finances secured and construction to begin shortly. Given the importance of this project and the value of life sciences to the future of science and economic development we considered it important to carry out an inquiry in the first half of 2011.[9]

8. We invited written submissions reviewing the progress of the UKCMRI since 2008 and assessing the UKCMRI's future plans and, to assist those submitting memoranda, we suggested they address the following questions:

  • What do the four partners hope to achieve from the project and what new technologies and innovations are being considered?
  • Is the financing of the UKCMRI robust and justified, with particular reference to the public support for the project and the knock-on effect on budgets for other research?
  • What are the risk assessment arrangements to ensure the safety of the site?
  • What are the arrangements for the closure of the existing National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill?

9. We received 24 submissions as well as several supplementary submissions. We would like to thank all those who submitted written evidence.

10. We held three oral evidence sessions in February and March 2011, taking evidence from four panels of witnesses, to whom we are grateful:

i.  Professor Malcolm Grant, President and Provost, UCL, Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive, CR-UK, Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive, MRC, and Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive, Wellcome Trust;

ii.  Natalie Bennett, Chair, Rob Inglis, Press Officer, and Frankie Biney, local resident, St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action;

iii.  Sir Paul Nurse, Chief Executive and Director, Sir David Cooksey, Chairman, and John Cooper, Chief Operating Officer, UKCMRI; and

iv.  Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, and the Earl Howe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Quality, Department of Health.

11. The oral evidence and associated written evidence is published alongside this report and the remaining written evidence is published on our website at

12. When we took evidence from the consortium we formed the view that some of its representatives questioned the need for our inquiry and had formed the view that as the UKCMRI had been approved by the Government the matter was closed. We take this opportunity to remind the witnesses that our remit is to scrutinise the policies and actions of the Government on science and technology matters and that Parliament will be asked to vote over £200 million of taxpayers' money for this important project. We intend to monitor this project during this Parliament.

The structure of report

13. In this report we shall examine all aspects of the project to build the UKCMRI. In chapter 2 we examine the strategy and vision behind the UKCMRI. We consider the wider implications of the UKCMRI for the UK at chapter 3. One issue which emerged during our inquiry is the reason for the UKCMRI's location in Brill Place, beside St Pancras in central London, which we examine in chapter 4. The suitability of the management structure and robustness of its finances, which concerned our predecessors, we examine in chapters 5 and 6. The safety and security issues are covered at chapter 7, the impact on the local community at chapter 8 and issues relating to the NIMR are at chapter 9.

1   "Founder organisations", UKCMRI website, Back

2   Office of National Statistics (2009) 'Expenditure on R&D performed in UK businesses: 2009.' Newport: ONS. Back

3   Medical Research Council, UKCMRI Final Full Business Case, version 7, January 2011, Foreword Back

4   "Founder organisations", UKCMRI website, Back

5   Innovation, Universities, and Skills Committee, First Report of Session 2007-08, UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, HC 185 Back

6   HC 185 (2007-08), para 3 Back

7   HM Treasury, Spending Review 2010, Cm 7942, para 1.35  Back

8   Agreement signed to establish UKCMRI, UKCMRI press announcement, 9 November 2010, Back

9   New inquiry announced: UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, Science and Technology Committee press notice no. 21, 18 November 2011. Back

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Prepared 25 May 2011