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MRC: No shortage of funding for bird flu research

April 4, 2012

The prospect of redactions and restricted dissemination hangs over bird flu research. But what about funding? According to the head of the Medical Research Council, which has more than tripled funding for flu research since 2004/5, cashflow won’t be a problem.

John Savill made the comments at a special conference convened in London this week to discuss the matter of research papers that were initially blocked from publication in Nature and Science due to biosecurity concerns. He explained that the MRC spends £12 million on flu research – and described this as “for us, a significant amount of money”.

Noting that other research councils will experience a real-terms funding cut as a result of the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review, Savill said: “The MRC got ‘flat-real’, so we haven’t had our funding cut. Indeed the NIHR [National Institute for Health Research] has had a small increase. And I’d emphasise that funding the flu research will obviously attract the Wellcome Trust as well.” Indeed, Wellcome already funded the FluWatch and MOSAIC projects as a response to the 2009 pandemic of H1N1.

Savill went on: “I don’t think research on flu will be restricted by funding, I think it will be restricted by the need to do this in centres of excellence.”

Asked to elaborate on ‘centres of excellence’, Savill explained that he was not referring to cuts to capital expenditure, but to the fact that flu research requires a high level of biosecurity that not every research facility has.

One question left unanswered was the extent to which researchers working on less well-known viruses find it harder than usual to attract funds during or after a pandemic of a more infamous virus such as bird flu.

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