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UK Coalition Government Slashes 2010 Funding for UKCMRI to £17M

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – In one of its first steps toward fulfilling campaign promises to tighten spending, the UK will slash funding this year on the planned UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation to £17 million ($24.4 million) from the £250 million promised for 2010 by the previous Labour Party government led by Gordon Brown.

The new coalition government headed by David Cameron's Conservative Party is insisting it is committed to the project, promising to spend the remaining £233 million on UKCMRI in phases over the next five years.

A UKCMRI spokesman told GenomeWeb Daily News the cutback will not slow down the ramping up of UKCMRI activity, including its search for a permanent chief executive, and the development of a planned £500 million new building, in the shape of a pair of chromosomes, in London near the St. Pancras International rail station.

"It won't have any effect as the funds will be made available to UKCMRI as necessary," a spokesman for the medical partnership, John Davidson, said this morning.

UKCMRI is a partnership of Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust, University College London, and the Medical Research Council. In a statement issued by UKCMRI, MRC Chief Executive Sir Leszek Borysiewicz noted that the £17M now budgeted for this year reflected expenses expected to occur in 2010.

"The Medical Research Council understands the need for budget savings in the current economic climate. We are satisfied that the Government is fully committed to UKCMRI and to the £250m announced in March," Borysiewicz said. "We do not expect that the decision to phase funding will impact the scope of the project or change the Government's existing or future commitment to UKCMRI."

But in the same statement, Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, cautioned that the government can best contain the costs of UKCMRI by sticking to its planned development timeframe. The planned institute is set to submit a formal planning application later this year to Camden Borough Council. UKCMRI anticipates becoming operational in the 2015-16 fiscal year, and employing up to 1,500 researchers.

"It is essential that there are no delays to the programme introduced by this change to the funding plan. Lengthening the time for implementation of a capital programme is a guaranteed way to increase its costs," Walport said.

While UKCMRI has seen opposition from many residents living near the proposed site and others, government and life sciences leaders in the UK have countered that the project can help draw top researchers to the UK.

During his unsuccessful re-election campaign in March, Brown re-stated the UK government's commitment to funding half the UKCMRI's projected cost, with the funding to have been delivered by the MRC from the UK's Department for Business Innovation & Skills. But earlier this month, Brown was defeated by the Cameron-led Conservatives, which lacked the majority needed to govern until forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg.

The funding cut is among £6.2 billion of reductions announced by the coalition government's new Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, on Monday.

"This is the first time this Government has announced difficult decisions on spending. It will not be the last," Osborne said.

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