Cancer research 'revived' by merger

July 25, 2003

Rumours of culture clashes and cracks in the newly merged Cancer Research UK were firmly quashed this week by chief executive Alex Markham in an exclusive interview with The THES .

He said that the merger in February 2002 of Imperial Cancer Research and the Cancer Research Campaign had been a success.

He said: "People have the incorrect perception that the marriage of these two charities has been difficult. It hasn't. It has been achieved smoothly, on time and on budget. Morale is high."

Speculation about problems began when Gordon McVie, former head of CRC, was not appointed head of CRUK and received a substantial pay-off.

More recently, the successful Aberdeen fundraising branch of CRUK broke its connection with the charity, saying it objected to increasing centralisation of policy.

CRUK, which is the third-largest funder of biomedical research in Britain, is shaping up as a charitable-sector research council.

It runs its own institutes and has fruitful relationships with the university sector where it funds an enormous portfolio of research.

Professor Markham said: "I want to ensure that our science funding remains at the leading edge of international competitiveness." He said fears that merging the charities would lead to a drop in revenue have been misplaced.

CRUK outperformed its fundraising targets this year.

In its first year, the charity spent £173 million on research.

Professor Markham is steadfast in his view that the charity will not pay university overheads, disagreeing with the recommendations of the ongoing Office of Science and Technology consultation on recovering the costs of research.

"The charitable sector cannot find additional means to fund additional research costs. If we have to pay twice as much for each project, there will be half as many projects." He said universities attract funding council, quality-related research funding when they win charity grants and they should use this for their CRUK overheads.

CRUK researchers say this money is not easy to identify in university budgets. Professor Markham suggested that the government should give it to the charities to distribute with their grants.

Professor Markham was born in Manchester and studied chemistry at Leeds University. After postdoctoral work in Japan and London, he worked in industrial drugs research for 14 years while studying medicine.

Writing his first grant application came as a shock. "Everyone thinks people in industry are marinated in money," Professor Markham said.

"The reality is that people in academia are the great envy of industrial researchers. In industry, there is equal financial competition for research support. Management want to know every month how much progress has been made. They can turn the tap off at any time. In academia, once the competition for money is over that is it."

He intends to bring some lessons from industry to CRUK, encouraging a regularly assessed performance management approach to funding awards. He said it was not a stick with which to beat researchers, rather an aid to organising their research.

Professor Markham takes over from Nobel prizewinner Sir Paul Nurse, who is to move to the US to head Rockefeller University in autumn.

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