MPs push for more cash to speed cure for cancer

August 4, 2000

Academic salaries need boosting and more long-term contracts are required to help support the national effort to tackle cancer, according to MPs.

The House of Commons select committee on science and technology report on cancer research concludes that chronic underfunding is compromising the United Kingdom's research base.

Michael Clark, chairman of the committee, said: "A world-class research programme is essential if we are to reduce the burden of this disease."

Twelve large centres of cancer research excellence should be set up across the UK. In particular, more patients should be entered into clinical trials for new treatments developed from the basic scientific work.

The committee called on the government to increase funding for direct support of cancer research to at least match that provided by charities, estimated as being up to Pounds 200 million a year.

This should be complemented by additional funds from the higher education funding councils and the National Health Service research and development budget.

The report also recommends that the level of remuneration for academic medical careers should be reviewed to ensure they were competitive with the NHS.

"Academic salaries have become increasingly uncompetitive in comparison with equivalent posts in industry and in academe overseas, and career structures are poor," the report notes.

Lord Oxburgh, the rector of Imperial College, is quoted in the report: "For people to go into most of the research posts we have available in our universities now cannot be entirely rational, simply because the prospects are so poor. Faced with the uncertainty and levels of salaries it is too much to retain them."

Many of the foreign-based academics questioned by the committee either came from or had been trained in the UK. They tended to blame the poor state of the research infrastructure or the low level of salaries as being behind their decision to leave the country.

The report also highlights a shortage of resources for bioinformatics - the processing of large amounts of biological data such as that coming from the Human Genome Project.

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