MRC praised for financial success

February 22, 2002

The Medical Research Council is "particularly successful" in building on intellectual property arising from its research institutes, a report has found.

Its income stream from such activities grew from £150,000 in 1986-87 to £17.9 million in 2000-01. It has also created a venture capital company that launched two venture capital funds, raising £40 million each.

The National Audit Office highlighted the council's achievements in looking at the success of public-sector research establishments at commercialising their science. The report, Delivering the Commercialisation of Public Sector Science, was commissioned in 1999 after the government agreed that institutions could keep proceeds from intellectual property for commercialisation and research rather than pay them to the Treasury.

It looked at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) and 53 associated establishments.

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said that progress had been made in capturing more of the economic and social benefits of scientific research funded by the taxpayer. These ranged from making research outputs freely available to forming spin-offs and developing products with the private sector.

Report recommendations in-clude:

* The Office of Science and Technology should agree performance indicators with the research councils to strengthen accountability and the recognition that not all commercial initiatives can succeed.

* The research councils should provide budgets for "proof of principle" funding and offer external advice to their centres when conflicts of interest arise.

* Research establishments should provide commercialisation training and give appropriate rewards for scientists who participate in commercialisation activities.

A Public Accounts Committee meeting will discuss the report in March. Its chairman, Edward Leigh, said: "I hope that scientists grasp the full potential of commercialisation. This will require cultural change in research establishments, appropriate incentives and committed leadership."

Nick Winterton, executive director of the MRC, said: "If new treatments born of MRC research add to Britain's wealth as well as our health, we're doubly proud of our scientists' achievements."

The NAO is completing a parallel report into research funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

* Nerc has changed its funding rules to allow research institutes to accept doctoral students directly. Previously, students came through Case studentships, but now Nerc institutes will be able to accept PhD students and select which university accredits the degrees.

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