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MRC confirms new chief

Stephen Pincock reports: linkurl:Leszek Borysiewicz;http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/aboutimperial/rectorandprincipalofficers/professorsirleszekborysiewicz , deputy rector of Imperial College London, was officially named today (September 28) as the next chief executive of Britain's troubled Medical Research Council, replacing Colin Blakemore who linkurl:steps down;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/52932/ this month. Borysiewicz is best known for his work on oncogenic viruses, including hum

By | September 28, 2007

Stephen Pincock reports: linkurl:Leszek Borysiewicz;http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/aboutimperial/rectorandprincipalofficers/professorsirleszekborysiewicz , deputy rector of Imperial College London, was officially named today (September 28) as the next chief executive of Britain's troubled Medical Research Council, replacing Colin Blakemore who linkurl:steps down;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/52932/ this month. Borysiewicz is best known for his work on oncogenic viruses, including human papillomavirus. He was knighted in 2001 for his research into vaccine development, and has been deputy rector of Imperial College since 2004. "There's no doubt he's an absolutely outstanding appointment and someone with an impeccable academic record," said Phil Willis, the chair of the all-party House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. But his appointment comes at a difficult juncture in the history of the MRC, the UK's main government funding agency for biomedical research. "The challenges that face him are really quite enormous," Willis told The Scientist. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to "restore a level of confidence and cohesion to the MRC itself," Willis said. The MRC's internal confidence has been badly bruised by a bitter internal dispute over the relocation of the linkurl:National Institute for Medical Research;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/22600/ . In July, Willis and his colleagues at the science and technology committee also raised concerns about the linkurl:suitability;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53454/ of the MRC's recently appointed director, John Chisholm, to guide the council through these difficult times, describing him as "vague" and "evasive." More broadly, the MRC is under increasing pressure to focus more on translational research. In March last year, the government asked venture capital fund manager David Cooksey to linkurl:suggest ways;http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/newsroom_and_speeches/press/2006/press_24_06.cfm to combine the country's medical research funding under a linkurl:single organization;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/24225/ , incorporating research done through the National Health Service and the MRC. linkurl:His report;http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/pre_budget_report/prebud_pbr06/press_notices/prebud_pbr06_presscooksey.cfm in December suggested, among other things, that while funding for basic research should be maintained, "future increases in funding should be weighted towards translational and applied research." Critics of this agenda fear this means funding will be stripped from basic research in order to pursue economic gain. "It's what I call the hidden agenda," Willis said. "The new chief executive will really have to fight hard - and not get distracted by the politics. You need to be a mixture of Einstein and Solomon to do the job." Hilary Leevers, acting director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, a pressure group aiming to improve the scientific health of the UK, agreed with Willis' analysis of the challenges Borysiewicz will face. "It seems to be an excellent appointment," she told The Scientist. "We just hope that he is able to bring the MRC back on course to being the excellent research council it should be. We're all very aware that there is more pressure on research to justify itself economically." Unconfirmed reports of Borysiewicz's appointment emerged linkurl:earlier this month;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/53587/ , although the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills has stayed tight-lipped throughout the appointment process. As Deputy Rector of Imperial College London, Borysiewicz has been responsible for the overall academic and scientific direction of the College. He is also a Governor of the Wellcome Trust, and Joint Chairman of the MRC/UK Stem Cell Foundation Scientific Advisory Board. He was unavailable for comment by deadline.
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