Relief at Moredun as research institute escapes funding cuts

Scotland's internationally renowned animal disease research institute, Moredun, based at Pentland Science Park, Penicuik, has avoided a cut in the funding of its research programme - at least for the next financial year starting in April.

Moredun is one of only three institutes left in the UK involved in large animal research. Its scientific programme for the next five years is currently under review but seems to have escaped government cuts.

Its chairman, John Jeffrey, said yesterday: "We were warned to expect a 2 per cent reduction in the budget for research funded by the Scottish Government but the budget is being maintained which is really good news.

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"We earn a bigger percentage of our annual income from the commercial sector than most other institutes, but government funding is vital for the maintenance of our research."

Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, chief executive and scientific director, said securing funding from outside sources was becoming even more important as costs were continuing to rise and the institute was committed to adhering to national agreements on salary levels.

"It will be a challenge to maintain our income," she said. "Funding from the Scottish Government accounts for half our income and we face another review of our budget in the spring and again in October, when our budget for the next four years will be determined."

The institute was continuing to benefit from royalty payments from the development of vaccines, and similar arrangements were being progressed for new vaccines and diagnostic tests which could result in an income boost in the future.

Moredun has already been awarded the largest ever grant from the European Union for animal health - €9 million, or about 7.6m - to lead a consortium to develop vaccines for the control of nematode parasites in livestock which, it is claimed, pose the greatest threat to global agricultural productivity. Worm populations are emerging which are resistant to the drugs currently used.

Former NFU Scotland president, John Ross, who chairs the Moredun Foundation which manages the institute's finances, said the likelihood of a funding squeeze had been anticipated.

"We have a strong balance sheet and have no plans for staff reductions despite our income remaining static and costs continuing to rise," he said.

The foundation has set aside 100,000 over the next three years to investigate a new illness in calves which is baffling scientists at the institute.

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"Bleeding calf syndrome" has been found on 200 UK farms since first being discovered last year and more than 2,000 calves have died from the disease across Europe.

Symptoms include nose bleeds and blood in the faeces, but bleeding can also be internal which means the condition - as yet untreatable - may go undetected.Scientists believe the incidence of the disease may be much higher because of unreported cases of calf deaths.

A current line of investigation by researchers is a possible link with the colostrum a calf ingests from its mother in the first few days after birth. It is believed genetics may also be a factor in the illness.