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Pharma R&D downsizing hits academic researchers

Published on 19/04/12 at 12:35pm

A survey of pharma’s research partnerships and funding of UK academics has raised concerns about the future of British science.

The ABPI’s biennial Industry/Academic Links Survey found that the number of industrial placements given to undergraduates has halved in four years, from 530 in 2007 to 268 in 2011.

Industrial placements are vital in helping undergraduates gain practical skills and knowledge of research, and their increasing rarity will make it harder for the UK to produce scientists with the right skills.

The report suggests that downsizing and site closures of UK R&D centres is one of the many causes behind this decline.

The placements typically involve one year of work in pharma company research environment, and require intensive supervision at first - something which companies cannot provide if their research workforce is being downsized or laid off entirely.

The ABPI publication Enriching research, training scientists says it is hoped that smaller companies and CROs will increase the number of placements they offer, but there is no guarantee that this will happen.

The downsizing and closure of UK research sites in recent years – including GSK, AstraZeneca and Pfizer - has also hit postgraduate and postdoctoral training, but not as severely as undergraduate placements.

The survey found 644 PhD students being funded by pharma companies in 2011, up on numbers from the past two surveys. However, this apparent increase is a result of most students now being funded for four years rather than three years, as was previously typical. 

Research councils such as the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC), were identified by pharma as the leading funding partners.

​The report shows the University of Manchester was by far the most successful in creating partnerships, with 120 Post-doc, PhD and undergraduate placements in total, with Imperial and Oxford and Cambridge some way behind. In terms of undergraduate placements alone, Bath was the most successful, with 26 students placed in total.

Andrew McConaghie

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