BSE research boost

January 17, 1997

The Office of Science and Technology has earmarked Pounds 17 million from the 1997/98 science budget for research into BSE and related diseases, including scrapie in sheep.

Science minister Ian Taylor announced the allocation of the budget to the research councils this week. The work will be managed jointly by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Medical Research Council. The money will be allocated over three years, bringing the total for work on the diseases by the two councils to Pounds 30 million.

The science budget for 1997/98 was set during last year's public expenditure survey round at Pounds 1.33 billion in cash terms. The BBSRC has secured Pounds 183 million (compared to Pounds 177 million for 1996/97); the Economic and Social Research Council Pounds 65 million (Pounds 63 million); the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Pounds 386 million (Pounds 378 million); the MRC Pounds 289 million (Pounds 282.7 million); the Natural Environment Research Council Pounds 165 million ((Pounds 164.6 million); and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council Pounds 192 million (Pounds 192 million).

MRC chief executive George Radda said he was "delighted" with the settlement, which will help it to press ahead with major initiatives in clinical research. During 1997/98 the council will allocate Pounds 4.1 million for work on the human health implications of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, the group of diseases to which BSE and scrapie belong. Nearly Pounds 1 million will be allocated to John Collinge of Imperial College, London to develop a research unit dedicated to human prion diseases like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Richard Brook, chief executive of the EPSRC, said: "Although the demand for support for high-quality research and training in our area will continue to outstrip available funds, the council is convinced that it will be able to support a strong programme."

Ken Pounds, chief executive of PPARC, said: "I welcome the degree of stability offered by these allocations." Last year 77 per cent of PPARC research grants went to 5 or 5-star physics departments. "Maintaining support for this internationally strong university research sector will remain a high priority for the council."

The NERC also welcomed its allocation but said it was "inevitable that many high-quality proposals will go unsupported through lack of funds". It said that the absence of decisions over NERC research centres involved in the Government's prior options privatisation probe "creates a major uncertainty which makes planning very difficult".

Other OST allocations include Pounds 6 million for a new round of Realising Our Potential Awards and Pounds 5 million for another research equipment initiative. There is to be an increase of Pounds 200 a year to Pounds 1,000 in the research training support grant for students funded by research councils. The money helps departments to support infrastructure and meet direct costs of student training.

The allocation for the Royal Society for 1997/98 is Pounds 22.3 million compared to Pounds 21.8 million in 1996/97. The Royal Academy of Engineering has been allocated Pounds 3.37 million compared to Pounds 3.12 million in 1996/97. The total includes Pounds 11.5 million for pension supplements, Pounds 1.5 million for the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, and Pounds 2.3 million for OST special initiatives including Public Understanding of Science.

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