Hunt is on for cancer guru

April 20, 2001

Birmingham University is set to win a multimillion pound government research grant even though it has failed to meet the strict conditions under which the money was originally earmarked.

It was announced in December last year that Birmingham had won £5.7 million to set up a world-class cancer research facility under the Department of Trade and Industry's competitive Joint Infrastructure Fund. It was awarded on the strict condition that Ernest Laue, the Cambridge biochemist who devised and presented the bid, moved to Birmingham to head the facility.

But Professor Laue decided to stay in Cambridge. Despite this, Birmingham has been given the chance to rebid exclusively for the grant if it can find a top academic to lead the project by August.

Professor Laue said that, while Birmingham was almost certain to get the cash in his absence, the university would never have won the funding without his involvement. "There is no way Birmingham would have got the money if I hadn't put the application in," he said. "I wrote the whole paper."

Professor Laue, who pulled out on health grounds, said it was "inconceivable" the deal would not now attract a top researcher.

The Jif grant is distributed jointly by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Wellcome Trust. Birmingham is to receive another £660,000 from the Hefce-funded joint research equipment initiative and is due to contribute £1.6 million for a purpose-built building.

The award will bring Birmingham one of only two "high-field" (900MHz) nuclear magnetic resonance scanners in the country.

In a letter to Birmingham vice-chancellor Maxwell Irvine confirming that the application had succeeded, the Jif executive committee was explicit:

"Please be aware that this award is conditional on Professor Laue moving to the University of Birmingham to take up a senior academic position as detailed in the JIF application... we will require such a commitment in writing from Professor Laue."

But later the committee agreed to change the conditions. They wrote:

"Wellcome and Hefce remain willing to award the national facility to the University of Birmingham on condition that the university identifies and attracts an outstanding NMR researcher as a replacement for Professor Laue."

Birmingham bioscience head Ian Trayer said the plan would survive because the university could offer an attractive package.

In a joint statement, the DTI, Hefce and the Wellcome Trust said: "The goal posts have not moved. The original Jif bid was internationally peer reviewed ... Any revised resubmission will be subject to international peer review in order to maintain the integrity of the Jif scheme and the quality science it supports."


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