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Organisations address biomedical research misuse threat

8 September 2005

The UK’s three leading bioscience research funding agencies have today, 8 September 2005, published a joint policy statement on reducing the risk of the research they fund being misused for harmful purposes by terrorists or others.

The Medical Research Council (MRC), the Wellcome Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), have issued the statement in light of public concerns that bioscience research could be misused in the development of bioweapons.

Today’s statement builds on existing policies and processes that the MRC, Wellcome Trust and BBSRC already have in place to ensure that the research they support meets the highest ethical and scientific standards.

Working in unison, the MRC, Wellcome Trust and BBSRC conducted a consultation exercise with members of the funding and advisory committees across the three organisations. This examined how existing procedures might be strengthened to heighten awareness amongst the scientific community and identify and assess risks of misuse at the initial grant application stage.

The consultation has led to a series of common changes to each organisation’s policy statements, guidance and procedures. These will include changes to funding application forms, the development of clear guidance for funding committees and modifications of organisational guidelines on good practice in research.

Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council said: “The medical research community recognises that there are concerns about possible harmful uses of civil research. These additional safeguards in our assessment processes will draw such issues more clearly to the attention of applicants for MRC funding and encourage them to address any areas for potential misuse of their research at the earliest possible stage. Of course, such measures on their own will not prevent the efforts of a determined terrorist, but this is a positive step by the research community to raise awareness and reduce the risks.”

Dr Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust said: “We understand that many people are alarmed by the threat of bioterrorism. But we need to balance these fears with sensible and practical measures that will help us manage such risks while ensuring that the benefits of research are realised. We hope the policies we have adopted both reassure the public and encourage the scientific community to remain vigilant to the risks of misuse. There are many deadly infectious agents and it is vital for public health that the scientific community can pursue legitimate research to understand and treat these diseases.”

Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) said: “Advances in fundamental bioscience research have the potential to be misused in bioterrorism. This risk is not new, nor is it restricted to high-tech areas of science or those directly related to human health. Adopting this common policy with the other two major funders of bioscience research will heighten awareness amongst the whole of the biological science community.”

ENDS

About MRC

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is a national organisation funded by the UK tax-payer. Its business is medical research aimed at improving human health; everyone stands to benefit from the outputs. The research it supports and the scientists it trains meet the needs of the health services, the pharmaceutical and other health-related industries and the academic world. MRC has funded work which has led to some of the most significant discoveries and achievements in medicine in the UK. About half of the MRC’s expenditure of approximately £500 million is invested in its 40 Institutes, Units and Centres. The remaining half goes in the form of grant support and training awards to individuals and teams in universities and medical schools. http://www.mrc.ac.uk

About The Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is an independent research funding charity established in 1936 under the will of the tropical medicine pioneer Sir Henry Wellcome. The Trust’s mission is to foster and promote research with the aim of improving human and animal health, and it currently spends over £400 million annually.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

External contact

MRC Press Office
tel: 020 7637 6011

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382