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Insight blog: Posts from the "Behind the MRC scenes" Category

Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.

Understanding industry

17 Jul 2013

How can we develop new drugs and get them to people more quickly? At the MRC’s Open Council meeting last week, a lot of the discussion focused on how the changing environment for the pharmaceutical industry means we need new models for drug discovery, and much closer working between academic and industry researchers. Katherine Nightingale rounds up the discussion.

There was a time when pharmaceutical companies produced new drugs at a steady rate. They invested in the research and development (R&D) of drugs, occasionally producing ‘blockbusters’ which could treat many people, and making enough profit to inject back into R&D. It took around 10–15 years to develop a drug and, while potential drugs often failed to jump the hurdles of clinical trials, there were enough in the pipeline to keep things going.

But, as we heard at the Open Council meeting last week, now that’s simply not the case: fewer and fewer new drugs are being developed, and it’s taking longer and getting more expensive to produce them. The patents have run out on many blockbuster drugs, meaning that pharma companies generate less revenue to plough back into R&D. And as we learn more about disease, the treatments that are produced are more specific to particular groups of patients, meaning that the markets for individual drugs are smaller. [...]

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In pictures: the MRC Centenary Festival

25 Jun 2013

Last weekend we kicked off our Centenary Open Week with a festival at London’s Science Museum. Scientists from 10 MRC-funded units and centres took part in ‘Life: A healthy game of chance and choice’, an activity taking visitors through MRC research related to healthy lives. Here’s Stacy-Ann Ashley with a photo round-up.

(Image copyright: Science Museum/Jennie Hills) [...]

Continue reading: In pictures: the MRC Centenary Festival

What do you want from the MRC blog?

21 Jun 2013

(Image credit: Flickr/Sharon Drummond)

(Image credit: Flickr/Sharon Drummond)

Yesterday, the MRC turned 100. Today is the slightly less significant one-year anniversary of the launch of our blog MRC Insight. We’ve had great fun blogging about the MRC, its research and researchers in the past year, but now we want to know what you, the readers, want from the blog in the future.

We started blogging because we wanted to reveal a side of the MRC that people don’t usually see: something different from the logo, the grant application form or our annual report. We wanted to show you who we fund, introduce MRC staff, look at some of the issues facing medical research today and delve into our rich history, an aspect that’s particularly important in our Centenary year.

We’ve been working towards many of these aims. We’ve had researchers blog about how they intend to use MRC funds to further a particular research area, how they feel about our open access policy, and why they wanted the Olympic Games to be over. MRC staff have blogged about overseas trips and MRC events. We’ve covered animal research, a trip to Everest, and what the ‘father of epidemiology’ John Snow might think about the field today. We’ve profiled researchers, pondered what’s going on in photos from our past, and had guest posts from David Willetts and Vince Cable. [...]

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Drum roll, please …

12 Jun 2013

Birthdays call for parties, so last week the Cheltenham Science Festival threw us an (early) 100th birthday bash, complete with cake, balloons and … the results of our Centenary poll on medical advances.

As Science Museum Executive and former Editor of New Scientist Roger Highfield tweeted later in the day, there’s something slightly surreal about singing Happy Birthday to a research funding body in the company of Jim Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. [...]

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The great coffee breakthrough

6 Jun 2013

(Image credit: Flickr/JenK)

(Image credit: Flickr/JenK)

Tea rooms and canteens have long been popular places for scientists to mingle and swap ideas. Katherine Nightingale explores how a chat over a coffee can lead to unexpected discoveries.

In the bright and airy canteen of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology’s new building, Dr Richard Henderson is demonstrating his habit of drawing on saucers, taking a — water soluble — pen from his pocket and sketching a neat blue graph on a saucer’s rim.

He’s not doodling but rather trying to get across the idea that the canteen, while a place to get a cup of tea or coffee, is also a place to share ideas, sometimes on the very crockery provided.

It’s not a new concept. The tea room in the Physics Department at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge inspired Max Perutz to persuade the MRC to build a canteen open to everyone when the MRC unit moved to the ‘old’ LMB building in 1962. As the LMB’s chairman, he was keen to create a space where people from different disciplines and career stages could get together. [...]

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Foundation for the future: the next 25 years of MRC research

31 May 2013

Sydney Brenner

Sydney Brenner

Last week, to mark and celebrate the MRC’s Centenary, the Foundation for Science and Technology organised a one-off debate to discuss what the MRC’s research priorities should be for the next quarter of a century. Louise Wren, MRC Public Affairs Manager, was there to hear a stellar line-up of speakers Dr Sydney Brenner, Sir Paul Nurse and Sir Keith Peters talk about how the future of medical research lies in experimenting with ourselves.

Last Wednesday, I joined a packed auditorium at the Royal Society along with MRC scientists, former MRC Chief Executives and Chairs, and representatives from medical research charities, industry and government. We were all there to see what some of the country’s most eminent scientists had to say about the future direction of UK medical research.

Sydney — former Director of the MRC Laboratory Molecular Biology (LMB) and currently Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies’ Crick-Jacobs Centre in the US — began his talk by describing a moment early in his career when he travelled from Oxford to Cambridge to see Watson and Crick’s model of DNA, an experience which “opened the door to everything”. His list of subsequent achievements is considerable: he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work showing how genes regulate organ development and how cells are programmed to die, and also co-discovered messenger RNA, which enables the DNA code to be translated into proteins. Sydney spoke warmly of his career at the MRC which spanned almost 35 years, saying the LMB was an “amazing vehicle” which spearheaded research across the world, benefiting from its open, non-hierarchical approach. [...]

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The Queen opens the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology … again

24 May 2013

Yesterday Her Majesty the Queen officially opened the new £212m home of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. But it wasn’t the first time she’d visited the institute — she officially opened its former home in 1962, as these two surprisingly similar photos illustrate.

The Queen at the official opening of the 'old' LMB building

LMB researcher John Kendrew shows the Queen scientific models during her 1962 visit to officially open the ‘old’ LMB building (Image copyright: MRC LMB) 

LMB scientist Leo James explains his research into viruses to the Queen during her visit to open the new LMB building yesterday (Image: MRC LMB)

LMB scientist Leo James explains his research into viruses to the Queen during her visit to open the new LMB building yesterday (Image copyright: MRC LMB) [...]

Continue reading: The Queen opens the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology … again

Can a zebrafish change its spots?

18 Apr 2013

When should we start talking to children about the use of animals in research? At the recent Edinburgh International Science Festival, MRC Regional Communications Manager Hazel Lambert added an encounter with two tanks of zebrafish into the Mini Scientists activity. The result? Lots of questions about spots and stripes.

Never underestimate your audience. Especially not when they are seven years old, dressed in a lab coat, with a pen poised over a clip board and ready to make a virus, remodel a city and extract some slimy-looking DNA from even slimier pea-juice.

The MRC’s Mini Scientists activity at the Edinburgh International Science Festival is usually booked out and feedback tells us that the kids, their parents and our dedicated volunteers all love taking part. But, after having run the activity for three years, I felt I wasn’t telling the audience the whole story. [...]

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Access all areas: BBC 5 Live and mouse research

6 Dec 2012

Handled with care: a mouse in the mouse house (Copyright: BBC 5 Live)

Handled with care: a mouse in the mouse house (Copyright: BBC 5 Live)

Victoria Derbyshire’s BBC 5 Live show was broadcast from the ‘mouse house’ at MRC Harwell this week. MRC senior press officer Cathy Beveridge was there to witness journalists working alongside animal researchers, and reflects on talking about animal research ‘from behind closed doors’.

One of the first rules I learned as a science press officer is that the word ‘ground-breaking’ should be used sparingly, if at all. Yet it was one of the first things that BBC 5 Live presenter Victoria Derbyshire said as she began her broadcast from within the Mary Lyon Centre, the mouse house at MRC Harwell, this week. By producing a two-hour live radio programme from within an animal research laboratory, we were making history.

BBC 5 Live first approached us back in the summer to find out whether we could take part in a live programme that would showcase the issue of animal research ‘from behind closed doors’. For an issue so often the source of considerable ethical debate, animal research remains strangely intangible to the wider public. BBC 5 Live had previously tackled the issue of abortion from within a clinic and terrorism from Guantanamo Bay, so were clearly no strangers to controversial topics. [...]

Continue reading: Access all areas: BBC 5 Live and mouse research

Open innovation as a reality

31 Oct 2012

Chris Watkins

Chris Watkins

Chris Watkins, the MRC’s Head of Translational Research, explains why today’s announcement of £7 million funding for 15 research projects awarded through our open innovation collaboration with AstraZeneca is such a significant step, and a signs of things to come.

We’re at an exciting time for medical research. Barriers are coming down, boundaries are blurring, and researchers are coming together more and more to crack important questions.

The term ’open innovation’ is bandied about a lot, but real examples of where it’s worked are only now beginning to emerge. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about what we’ve announced today — working with AstraZeneca, the MRC has provided UK academic researchers access to 22 well-characterised compounds and the funding to undertake studies which will lead to a deeper understanding of human disease and speed up the development of potential new treatments.

A major focus for the MRC over the past five years has been on research which translates the results of basic science into improved healthcare, products and services. Translational research is a pivotal part of MRC’s strategy and part of my job is to develop ways to make this happen. [...]

Continue reading: Open innovation as a reality