AstraZeneca chief to head forum designed to encourage research

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Gordon Brown yesterday pledged to promote science education and hi-tech industry, promising help for university spin-off companies.

Gordon Brown yesterday pledged to promote science education and hi-tech industry, promising help for university spin-off companies.

As part of the Government's new 10-year science framework, the Chancellor announced plans to re-examine the research and development (R&D) tax credit for mid-sized science firms. The tax credit has already provided over £600m in support of small and medium-sized enterprises since its inception.

To help raise the level of business R&D, the Government will establish an industry-led science forum, which Sir Tom McKillop, AstraZeneca's chief executive, will chair. The forum will update the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry twice a year on science and society issues.

The move builds on the Government's attempt during the past 12 months to encourage input from major R&D employers, led by Sir Tom, into forming its science framework.

Industry lobby groups welcomed the creation of the forum, which follows a spate of closures of university science departments. The furore over chemistry closures led the Nobel Laureate Professor Sir Harry Kroto to return his honorary degree to Exeter University in protest. Philip Wright, director of science and technology at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said the closures gave "urgency to the establishment of this forum".

Tax barriers deterring researchers from creating university spin-offs will go, the Chancellor pledged, following his blunder in introducing them in a previous budget. University spin-offs have almost ground to a halt since academics discovered they were facing huge tax bills as soon as they launched a company to exploit patents or research ideas.

"It should now be possible to achieve tax-efficient spinouts of IP-rich businesses from UK universities," Brian Mulholland, at Ernst & Young's entrepreneurial services practice, said.

Mr Brown also announced the Government's intention to pilot a matched scheme to help universities build up its resources through endowments. He said he wanted to build on its £2.5bn investment in science.

Ian Diamond, of the Economic and Social Research Council, said: "Research councils will deploy the majority of the new funds we receive to increase our contributions to the full economic cost of research."

Regional development agencies will promote "science cities" in the North as part of their £100m science technology investment programme. The first will be Manchester, followed by Newcastle and York.

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