Speech by the Minister of Health and Children, Mr Micheál Martin TD at the opening of the BioSciences Institute at UCC

The completion of this building marks a major step in the Institutes progress since I launched it in May 2000. UCC´s BioSciences Institute is eagerly meeting the challenges of 21st century biomedical science research. It is one of the first developments to be realised as part of the Government´s decision to invest in a really major way in science infrastructure in this country. Bringing the building to completion has been a major team effort by so many from within and outside UCC, and is a tribute to the commitment and enthusiasm of all concerned.

Its opening coincides with initiation of several new programmes funded under the HEA´s PRTLI scheme, as well as a number funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

This is the most exciting development for many years in biological science here at UCC. The Institute pools resources, promotes interdisciplinary research, and enables the development of large-scale high quality research programmes at national and international levels.

Bioscience is at the very forefront of 21st century research. It holds great promise for the health and wellbeing of mankind. Bioscience research at UCC will expand knowledge of fundamental life processes, will use this to understand the basis of disease at gene cell and whole body level, and will develop that science to yield new approaches to diagnosis, treatment and prevention. On the same basis, novel exploration of the linkages between food science and health will enhance understanding of the role of food in disease prevention, to optimise the health – promoting qualities of diet. The Institute therefore has a dual role as the basic science component and focus for clinical research in the region, and for technology transfer into new areas of food production.

Contribution to Health

Bioscience has an enormous contribution to make to our national advancement on both health and economic levels. On the health side research activities in the Institute cover a wide range of diseases and disorders including: cancer, diseases of the heart and blood vessels, blindness, reproductive disorders, depression and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinsons and Alzheimers. The Cork Cancer Research Centre for example will be based at the Institute. The diseases and disorders I have mentioned take a major toll on people in Ireland and elsewhere. The knowledge gained from the research here in the BioSciences Institute will enable us to take a more evidence based – and what should be therefore a more effective – approach to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of these disorders. Such an evidence based approach is very much in keeping with the National Health Strategy and with the recommendations of many reports, for example, the Value for Money Report on the Irish Health System published in November 2001.

Contribution to Economy

Bioscience also has enormous potential for our economic advancement. It generates spin-off industries, which will add significantly to the ability of this country to control its own economic destiny. The Institute will play a key part in this. It will provide them with an enduring research core, and will be a source of highly trained researchers for them. This will be a major factor in attracting Bioscience and Pharma-chemical investment to the region at the Research and Development level.

We must remember that the health services and the healthcare industry share a common objective in combating disease and promoting health. Both depend on research for advances in knowledge that generate novel diagnostics. With 18 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in the world and 75 medical device and diagnostic company manufacturers in Ireland, there is considerable potential to improve the level of co-operation between the health services and the healthcare industry.

The National Health Research Strategy Making Knowledge Work for Health which I launched in 2001 calls for among other things, greater partnership with industry. As a result of amendments made to the Health Research Board Establishment Order, I was in a position to appoint to the new board last May one person on the nomination of the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment and one person from the private sector who has specialist knowledge and experience of the conduct of research involving medicinal products and/or medical devices.

Important Research Role of 3rd Level Sector

Irish scientists and researchers have made significant contributions to medical knowledge and have achieved international recognition in their fields of excellence. The health system and the university/medical school sector in Ireland have strong links, established over the past three centuries, that are essential for world-class health research. I recognise that top-level institutes such as this encourage this type of cross over which allows for increased sharing of knowledge and expertise and promotes top quality research and results. Pooling resources is vital to gain increased understanding and information about disease and I am aware the BioSciences Institute promotes interdisciplinary research, and enables the development of large-scale high quality research programmes at national and international levels.

The principle of bringing together strong research groups drawn from a number of disciplines to enhance existing collaborations and foster interdisciplinary research programmes is very much in keeping with this Government´s objective of a coherent and comprehensive approach to research. The added value is the coordinated and integrated framework which provides an ideal environment for training researchers and providing structured career paths in the best facilities with on-going educational supports and a multidisciplinary approach. It cannot thrive in isolation.

The National Health Research Strategy

The development of this BioScience Institute and other important research developments such as the European Institute for Clinical Trials in Rare Diseases also here in UCC are very much in keeping with the type of development envisaged in the National Health Research Strategy. This document was based on a process of strategic thinking and consultation undertaken by the Health Research Board.

The document proposes a thriving research culture supported by two complementary but distinct pillars,

  • Establishment of a research and development function within the health service
  • Enhanced support for science for health

In the context of advancing the implementation of this Strategy I am pleased to be able to say that the annual revenue contribution from my Department for the Health Research Board has been increased this year (2003) to €19.86 million, which represents an increase of 14% on the 2002 figure and 202% on the 1999 figure. This budgetary increase reflects in part the extent of this Government´s commitment to the funding of a vibrant health research sector.

Government Commitment to RDTI

This Government truly recognises the importance of science, technology and innovation to Ireland´s future economic and social success and has invested substantially in the Research and Development base of the country. In the National Development Plan,€2.48 billion has been allocated to Research, Technological Development and Innovation (RTDI) over the seven year period of the Plan. Of this, €1.5billion is being provided specifically for RTDI for Industrial Development related activities. This money is being used as a means of enhancing innovation and competitiveness, in order to increase output and employment.

Central to the vision of Ireland as a country driving technological change is Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), a newly established, dedicated research body that has been set up to administer the Technology Foresight Fund of over €635m. SFI will support projects in key technologies strategic to long-term sectoral and national development and is a vital element in the Government´s strategy to move Irish industry higher up the value chain.

National Research Structures

My Department has also been working closely with the Health Research Board to ensure that the particular needs of health research are safeguarded in the development of a new framework for a National Policy for Research and Technological Development which is being addressed by the commission brought together by ICSTI to recommend on appropriate overarching structures for coordination of publicly funded research. The need for specific health focused research in Ireland and the necessity to ensure that health and medical research is given the prominence it deserves to serve society within the wider national research environment are crucial in this regard. Coordination in research to maximize synergy is very much to be welcomed whilst acknowledging the need to serve various areas each like health seeking to further key national objectives and benefits for society such as the maximizing of health gain. In this regard it is most important that those engaged in the delivery of health care in day-to-day contact with patients can carry out research so that patients needs are well reflected in research outcomes. This will give us more effective health care as well as enhancing Ireland´s economic development.

Finally I wish to congratulate UCC on the opening of this Institute – a continuation of the University’s long tradition in scientific research. The work carried out here will contribute greatly to the development of a thriving health-related research infrastructure in this country and will benefit us both socially and economically for many years to come. I am confident that the strategy you have adopted in bringing top quality expertise together in this Institute will generate, here in UCC, an excellence in biosciences that will be international in its renown and world class in its contribution to improved quality of health. I would like to thank you very much for inviting me and I wish you all well with your future research endeavours.