King's spending spree targets UCL

November 11, 2005

King's College London has embarked on an aggressive recruitment and expansion campaign in clinical sciences, months after losing out on a multimillion-pound research partnership in the field, writes Anna Fazackerley.

In February, King's was beaten to the post by University College London in the battle to secure a ground-breaking merger with the Medical Research Council's prestigious National Institute for Medical Research.

But King's confirmed this week that it is investing millions of pounds in positioning itself head-to-head with UCL on patient-based research, despite losing the deal.

The university has been vigorously pursuing research stars to improve its clinical research profile and plans to create scores of research jobs.

Thirty-one new chairs have been appointed across its health schools.

Robert Lechler, vice-president for health at the university, told The Times Higher : "I think the historical version of the NIMR saga will be that it was two years too early for us. We are ploughing ahead with the same direction of travel, unfettered by that partnership. We had better be a very serious competitor for UCL. That is obviously the target."

Professor Lechler said that King's was in talks with a "young megastar" whom they wanted to run a new chemical biology initiative.

The university plans to employ up to 80 new researchers in this area, in an attempt to fill the vacuum left by the controversial closure of its chemistry department two years ago - a problem that was cited by MRC council members when they voted against King's on the NIMR partnership.

Professor Lechler said: "We have been energetic in reshaping the workforce.

There was a substantial turnover following the last research assessment exercise. That has created the headroom for some of the recruitment activity we are enjoying now."

The university has recently won contracts to establish two new major MRC centres for research into asthma and neurodegenerative diseases.

It has £10 million in to set up a new clinical neuroscience institute at Denmark Hill in south London and plans to raise a further £15 million.

It is also developing a multi-million-pound initiative in clinical and translational cancer research.

But UCL is confident that the forthcoming merger with the NIMR, which has produced five Nobel prizewinners, will place it in an extremely strong position.

Malcolm Grant, UCL president and provost, said: "This promises to be a fertile marriage between two powerful institutions. The NIMR will benefit from its new proximity to the many hospitals associated with UCL, along with the enormous investments in basic science and translational medical science that UCL has made in recent years."

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