A RESEARCH council grant has been withdrawn from a joint project at Cambridge and Bristol universities following the collapse of their partnership.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council confirmed this week that it has terminated the Pounds 300,000 grant with effect from May 1 1998. The BBSRC said it reserved the right to do so "if the terms and conditions of the grant are not being met". It said such a termination was very rare.
The joint project between researchers at Bristol's department of veterinary medicine and Cambridge's department of physics aimed at developing a slow-release casing for drugs, had been ongoing, and funding for 1996 to 1999 was approved by the BBSRC in 1996. Work was already under way at Bristol.
The project fell into disarray when the underwriter of the proposals at Cambridge retired and no one else there was prepared to back it. A BBSRC source said that there was no question over the quality of the research.
The research at Cambridge was to be led by William Griffin, a senior research fellow in material sciences. With only a short-term research contract, Dr Griffin needed a permanent member of staff to underwrite the application. He had secured the backing of former pro-vice chancellor and physics professor Sir Sam Edwards, but Sir Sam retired shortly after signing the application in 1995.
A source close to the project said that the issue was not Sir Sam's retirement but Cambridge's produres for dealing with collaborative arrangements and with mutli-disciplinary research.
Dr Griffin has since failed to secure a new underwriter at Cambridge for the project, which would have involved the material sciences and metallurgy department, where Dr Griffin held his post, as well as the department of physics. The lost money means there are no funds for Dr Griffin's contract to be maintained. He has been working unpaid and is now taking Cambridge to a tribunal for unfair dismissal, which has been deferred at the request of the university. Dr Griffin has also invoked a disciplinary statute against the university for its handling of the case.
Dr Griffin would not comment this week because he wanted "to keep faith" with Cambridge, as an internal investigation into the matter was still pending, and he hoped for an "amicable solution".
A spokeswoman for Cambridge confirmed that Dr Griffin had "made representations to the university which are being looked into", but would not comment about "specific dealings with individuals".
But she quickly moved to distance Cambridge from the row over the BBSRC grant. "It is a point of fact that the grant was not awarded to Cambridge, it was awarded to Bristol," she said. "It has not been withdrawn from Cambridge."
A spokeswoman at Bristol University reacted angrily. "I have the grant proposal in front of me and it was a joint agreement between us and Cambridge," she said. "It seems to me that there was a way out of this dilemma, and we are very disappointed. We were very pleased to get the grant and we looked forward to working with Cambridge."
The BBSRC's Internet Web Site listed the project as a Bristol and Cambridge venture until recently.
It is understood that the grant would have been administered via Bristol, as when the deal collapsed it was hoped that Dr Griffin would join the payroll at Bristol, although his apparatus is in Cambridge.
The Bristol spokeswoman said: "The equipment was the key, it cannot be moved from Cambridge."