MRC chief calls for budget to double

December 12, 2003

Britain's success in biomedical research is "miraculous" given its budget, but without a massive injection of cash it will be lost, the new chief executive of the Medical Research Council warned MPs this week.

During his first scrutiny session with the House of Commons' science and technology committee on Monday, Colin Blakemore said the government must at the very least double the council's £450 million research budget.

Professor Blakemore warned that the UK lagged far behind international competitors such as the US on biomedical research spending. He said much of Britain's success rested on investment made 20 years ago.

"It is miraculous that we do so well when we spend so little, but it is not going to last," he said.

Professor Blakemore agreed with committee members that the MRC's success rate of 25 per cent for research grant applications was not good enough.

Professor Blakemore said the council was considering implementing a flexible grant scheme, where researchers could apply for small or large grants and could request a supplementary grant to support collaboration.

He confirmed that the MRC's unpopular cooperative grant scheme, which was criticised for creating "marriages of convenience" between researchers, was likely to be scrapped.

Labour MP Tony McWalter told Professor Blakemore that he had dropped his toothbrush in anger when he heard him criticising the committee's report on the MRC on a radio programme .

Professor Blakemore apologised, saying: "I understand your reasons for concern and they accurately reflected the perceptions of the academic community."

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