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UK's Brown Promises 250M Pounds Toward UKCMRI Campus Plan for London

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK government will contribute half of the projected £500 million ($742.2 million) cost of the controversial UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced yesterday.

The UKCMRI funding will be delivered by the Medical Research Council, from the Department for Business Innovation & Skills, subject to an approval expected later this year. The announcement, which comes as Brown is seeking election, "will provide more certainty and give full confidence to the partners to enable them to commit their funding," the government said in a statement.

UKCMRI is a partnership of Cancer Research UK, the kingdom's largest cancer research funding organization, as well as the Medical Research Council, University College London, and the Wellcome Trust. UKCMRI plans to develop a roughly £500 million building, in the shape of a pair of chromosomes, near the St. Pancras International rail station.

The planned institute would employ up to 1,500 researchers, and is set to become operational in the 2015-16 fiscal year. UKCMRI would employ genomic technologies in the array of research its partners plan to pursue there, and officials are counting on the institute to help make Britain a global destination for top life sciences researchers.

Brown said that the funding of the project is "proof of this government's commitment to invest in the sectors and jobs that we need for the future." He added, "It will work to deliver the life-saving treatments of tomorrow and translate research discoveries into competitive advantages for the UK economy."

But the UKCMRI has also drawn opposition from many residents living near the proposed site and others, because it would test on smaller animals; and would include a high category 3 lab, allowing for study of some infectious diseases such as flu viruses. Opponents have also said that the proposed institute would be too close to homes near the project site, and that officials should instead stick to earlier plans for creating below-market "affordable" housing on the site.

The Medical Research Council's Chief Executive, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz said publicly last December that his publicly-funded agency would foot up to half the cost when plans for the institute were unveiled at that time. Of the remaining cost, between 25 percent and 30 percent is expected to come from Cancer Research UK, a firm 20 percent from Wellcome Trust, and between 5 percent and 10 percent from University College London.

Brown announced the £250 million contribution while inspecting plans for the UKCMRI during a visit to the Wellcome Trust, where he announced the release of New Industry, New Jobs - One Year On, a report promoting the government's efforts to carry out policies announced a year ago with the intent of strengthening the UK's industrial capabilities in the life sciences and other advanced technologies.

Brown also announced he will create the Newton Scholarships program, under which 100 doctoral students annually will receive scholarships designed to keep them, and their skills, in the UK; as well as appoint the UK's first-ever minister for life sciences in the new Parliament that will meet following the general election, expected to take place later this spring. The new minister would report to both the secretaries for business and health.

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