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Closing a skills gap that threatens translation of research into new medicines

24 April 2009

University based projects attract private funding to mitigate skills gap in biomedical research.

Four research projects, funded largely by public money, have successfully attracted additional private and public funding to help fill a skills shortage that could seriously restrict the translation of UK science into medical treatments.

Over £12M of funding was awarded to four university-based Integrative Mammalian Biology (IMB) projects in Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester. The projects are now successfully training scientists in the specialist skills required to use biological systems that are useful models of human physiology – whole animals, for example. These systems are essential for the translation of basic research discoveries into new treatments through safety and efficacy testing.

The projects have now secured additional funding from private and public sources to build on their initial start. This has provided the necessary cash for a professorship, a lectureship, a business development manager and at least six CASE (Collaborative Award in Science and Engineering) awards. Private sponsors include AstraZeneca, GSK, Pfizer, Abbot and Syngenta. Public sector funding includes doctoral training grants from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

An article published in the April 2009 edition of Business, BBSRC’s quarterly magazine, highlights the excellent progress that has been made in capacity building through additional public-private funding opportunities.

Dr Mike Collis, IMB project co-ordinator and chairman of the BPS Integrative Pharmacology Fund said: "The capacity building awards are proving to be an excellent example of how public and private funding organisations can work together to rebuild an essential area of UK biomedical research".

Joint-funded by BBSRC, the British Pharmacological Society (through their Integrative Pharmacology Fund, supported by AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer), the Department for Innovation Universities and Skills, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Scottish Funding Council and MRC, the projects are now 18 months into their funding and are building on this initial investment. Two of the projects are based in London at Imperial College and King’s College. The other two are joint consortia between the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool and the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde.

A range of new activities with additional cash support from industry are now beginning. These activities enhance biomedical research by focussing on skills development, addressing economic and business factors, exploring social issues and expanding academic provision. Examples include an AstraZeneca experimental design day held recently at King’s College London, which saw industrial scientists becoming involved in university-based teaching. A similar 4-day course held in Manchester will be extended to an annual event through industrial sponsorship. Also, a Pfizer sponsored Chair in Integrative Biomedicine and ‘3Rs’ lecturer, again at King’s, has been established. CASE studentships have been awarded to the University of Manchester with AstraZeneca and GSK as industrial partners. In addition, a ‘Global Medical Excellence Cluster` including two of the centres - Imperial College London, King’s College London – has received funding to pursue opportunities to collaborate with the pharmaceutical industry on research in whole systems.

Dr Celia Caulcott, Director of Innovation and Skills at BBSRC said: "It is absolutely vital for the future of biomedical research that we retain the skills base necessary for safety and efficacy testing of new medical treatments. We are delighted that the initial funding from the Integrated Mammalian Biology capacity building programme is being used effectively to this end. It is also wonderful to see that the four projects are now attracting exciting new public-private funding opportunities that will continue to ensure that tomorrow’s scientists learn essential skills today."

ENDS

Notes to editors

For further information please see BBSRC Business, April 2009, p14-15. An electronic version can be downloaded here: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/publications/business/2009/0904_business.pdf (PDF 1.39MB)

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 £450M 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. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

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