Research overheads row hits new peak

May 26, 1995

Disagreement over who should pay the overheads for charity-funded medical research increased this week as the issue became linked to charities' demands that they should benefit financially from the research they fund, writes Aisling Irwin.

It was revealed that funding of overheads for charity research, which is the responsibility of the Higher Education Funding Councils, has dropped by 40 per cent in England over the past three years.

The Wellcome Trust wants first refusal on the intellectual property rights to research it has funded, which it would exploit via a new technology transfer company. Until now only the Cancer Research Campaign has demanded the rights to the results of all research that it funds, via its trading company.

Technology transfer specialists say that if charities are to benefit financially they should also pay overheads, which can be as high as the direct costs of the research.

Mark Ferguson of Manchester University, who chaired the Government's Foresight panel on health and the life sciences, said that such IPRs should remain with universities and that HEFCE grants should cover the cost of overheads.

Pushing charities to fund overheads would alienate both them and the public. "The Wellcome Trust has no reason to spend its money in Britain. Their (recent) plans to spend a significant amount of money overseas should be regarded as a warning," he said. "The Wellcome Trust is entering this not to make money but primarily to make sure that inventions are exploited."

Michael Thompson, chair of the Committee of Vice Chancellors' medical committee, said that the committee had met the Association of Medical Research Charities to resolve the two issues.

He said: "Part of me says: 'We are doing this research; where are the arrangements for the university to share with the charity in its results?' If the charity is not paying our overheads then we should have a share." He said that he and many vice chancellors agree that overhead costs should come from the funding council.

The Charity Commission said that it is "quite acceptable and may be welcomed" for the Wellcome Trust to demand that it own IPRs.

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