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Last Updated: Monday, 7 March 2005, 13:40 GMT
UK plans to spend 1bn on biotech
Scientist in a lab
The government wants to make the UK the best place to do science
The UK government will spend 1bn on biotechnology by 2008, according to newly announced science spending plans.

The money will come out of a projected 10bn to be spent on UK science over the next three years, outlined in the spending review last year.

The biotech funding will cover research on stem cells, with a view to developing new therapies for disease.

The government has previously stated that it is committed to making the UK the best place to do science.

In addition to the more than 1bn for the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), funding for the Medical Research Council (MRC) will rise to 1.5bn.

The figures hide the fact that very little of the increase will be available to fund new research
Robin Lovell-Badge, NIMR

About 440m of the MRC's funds will go on clinical research into diseases such as mental health, stroke, cancers and diabetes.

The government has also pledged 150m to energy research in order "to help the UK lead in climate change science".

Trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt announced the plans as part of the government's science spending allocations, which reveal how the overall 10bn cake will be sliced up and distributed between the different research councils.

Health and success

"Science and innovation are central to improving the environment in which we all live, the nation's health and ensuring the success of the UK economy," she said.

"Government spending on UK science will be the largest ever investment by any government in British science and will rise to over 3.4 billion a year by 2008."

The government added it wanted to "close the gap" with the US on science.

Dr Peter Cotgreave, director of Save British Science which campaigns for improved funding for UK research, said: "It's great that new money is coming in for science, and a very positive political signal that the Prime Minister is personally involved in the announcement.

"But we are increasingly seeing politicians dictate the scientific questions that the research councils must ask, giving specific allocations for things like energy research and biotechnology.

"Those things are important, but so is blue-skies research with no obvious application. Without it, we would never have had things like genetics and biotechnology in the first place."

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, head of genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, echoed this view.

"The figures hide the fact that very little of the increase will be available to fund new research," he commented.

"Initiatives to translate basic research findings into the clinic and biotechnology industry are also welcome, but they will be short-lived if there are not sufficient increases in funding for the basic science required to underpin them."

Mrs Hewitt also announced that investment in nanotechnology-related research would rise to 200m and that 300m would be pledged to help universities and institutes link up with businesses and spin-off companies.

Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin said: "It is Groundhog Day once again for Labour.

"There is not a penny of new money here. We are committed to matching Labour's spending on science and technology and will do so without having to raise taxes like Labour."

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