The Moredun Research Institute (MRI) has warned that any further cuts in government funding would jeopardise its ability to respond to future pandemics or infectious disease outbreaks.
MRI’s international reputation rests on its contribution to producing vaccines, diagnostic tests and disease control programmes for livestock.
But this year it turned over facilities and staff who are trained in working with dangerous pathogens to doing complex Covid-19 work. It is still carrying out 1,500 tests a week, which makes it one of the most significant providers in Scotland and it has also embarked on new NHS research.
However, MRI director Professor Julie Fitzpatrick and Crieff farmer Ian Duncan Millar, the chairman of the Moredun Foundation, have expressed their concerns that any further tightening of Scottish Government funding would lead to job cuts and the potential loss of critical mass.
Mr Millar told a briefing: “The benefits of what we do flow not just immediately to our (farming) industry but to help during a national event, as we have done recently. It’s important the investment in people is maintained otherwise at some point, if we are called upon to help in future, the people and skill sets won’t be there.”
The Moredun, which receives 55% of its income from the Scottish Government, has seen funding fall 40% since 2011 to £5.8 million this year.
Prof Fitzpatrick made it clear MRI’s primary focus will continue to be on animal diseases but she insisted her institute would not have been able to contribute to human coronavirus science if it was not already working on infectious diseases of animals.
“I hope government takes note of that,” she said.
Prof Fitzpatrick added she was concerned that the government’s proposed strategic funding programme for 2022-27 would focus on short-term responsive research at the expense of long-term strategic research.
She said: “Broadly speaking the strategy is good for the Moredun as it has animal health and disease, plant health and disease and livestock production as some of the main themes.
“However, it’s still not clear what the division will be in terms of funding so we are concerned. We need to keep as much as possible coming our way for animal disease as the outbreak of coronavirus really emphasised the importance of infection agents and the one health approach.”