Journalist Request: Comments on Status of Staden Package

Mike Clark mrc7 at cam.ac.uk
Thu May 1 12:45:48 EST 2003


In article <001601c30fdb$2c6f9330$195b9eac at BernadetteSony>, Bernadette Toner
<URL:mailto:btoner at genomeweb.com> wrote:
> Hi Everybody -
> 
> I'm the editor of BioInform, a weekly newsletter on bioinformatics. I'm
> writing an article on the MRC's decision to cut funding for the Staden
> Package, and I'm looking for some feedback from users on how this decision
> will impact your work. Any one willing to comment can contact me directly at
> btoner at genomeweb.com.
> 
> Best wishes -
> 
> Bernadette Toner
> 

I would like to make some personal comments.

For me the failure of the MRC to continue to support the Staden software
package despite giving it a very high ranking during the grant review
process, is short-sighted, misguided, most unfortunate, but probably is
symptomatic of the financial problems that have occurred for the MRC under
the directorship of Sir George Radda. The MRC are currently rejecting many
grant applications which receive a high ranking during review, on the
grounds that they are short of funds. In addition they have created a
situation where many smaller groups are no longer eligible to apply for
funds. On the other hand considerable amounts of money have sometimes been
distributed to large groups that are already well funded. 

If you look at the reports put out by the MRC you will see that they are
distributing more funds than in previous years, but the way these funds are
distributed to individual applications has changed markedly. There has been
considerable criticism of the MRC's strategies for grant funding over the
past few years.

For those that are not familiar with the criticisms levelled at the MRC I
would encourage them to look at, and to read the 3rd Report of the House of
Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology

<URL:http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200203/cmselect/cmsctech/132/13202.htm>

an acrobat version of the above report as well as the oral and written
submissions of the MRC and Sir George Radda can be downloaded at

<URL:http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm/cmsctech.htm>

This report is quite critical of the decisions made by the MRC under the
directorship of Sir George Radda. For balance I should point out that the
MRC have attempted to defend themselves and you can read their press
release at

<URL:http://www.mrc.ac.uk/index/public-interest/public-press_office/public-press_releases_2003/public-25_march_2003.htm>

I find myself in the camp of academics who believe that much of the
criticism levelled at the MRC is valid.

I also find it deeply ironic that this announcement of withdrawal of
support for a major software package in bioinformatics, from a world
recognised group within the MRC LMB, and with a proven track record that
goes back to the early work of Fred Sanger on Phi-X, mitochondrial, and EBV
genomic sequences, should be announced at the same time that the MRC and
Sir George Radda are regularly appearing at celebrations of "50 Years of
the Double Helix"!

See the photograph currently on the website of the MRC
<URL:http://www.mrc.ac.uk/>


It seems difficult to try and quantify the exact impact of the work of the
Staden group on the many researchers around the world who routinely use the
software as a fundamental tool of the trade of biological research.

More specifically and personally I would add that the Staden package of
software has been my own preferred package for analysis of sequences in my
own research during the last 25 years. The package has been used to analyse
antibody sequences both for my own basic research but also for those
aspects of my research that have led to the commercial and therapeutic
applications of recombinant antibodies.

Again, ironically, the MRC is currently earning large sums of money in
royalties from the commercial sales of recombinant antibodies over which
they hold key patents. I am sure that the Staden package probably played a
key role in the analysis and design of many of those recombinant
antibodies.

What is also difficult to judge is the impact of the withdrawal of funding
on the future use and development of the Staden package. I'm sure that most
would agree that Bioinformatics holds the key for the future. What is the
point of collecting huge amounts of data on genomic DNA sequences if you
can't easily manipulate, access and analyse the data. Under criticism the
MRC have committed major funding to "Biobank", but can't find the
wherewithal to support a key bioinformatics project in support of analysis
of such data!

I don't hold up much hope for much of the future funding of basic
biological research by the MRC until they properly address the criticisms
raised by the Select Committee. These are some of my own personal views in
response to this sad news.


Mike Clark,                        <URL:http://www.path.cam.ac.uk/~mrc7/>
-- 
M.R. Clark, PhD. Division of Immunology
Cambridge University, Dept. Pathology
Tennis Court Rd., Cambridge CB2 1QP
Tel.+44 1223 333705  Fax.+44 1223 333875




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