Windfall for French Biomedical Agency

PARIS--Researchers at France's giant biomedical research agency, INSERM, are rejoicing over a 16% hike in the organization's research budget for 2001. The windfall, announced by INSERM director-general Claude Griscelli last week, is the biggest such increase since 1983. It will give the organization's 260 laboratories an extra $13 million over the current research budget of about $83 million. In addition, 100 new research posts will be created, bringing the total number of scientists to nearly 4000.

The new money represents "a significant sum," says neuroscientist Marc Peschanski, director of the INSERM Laboratory of Neuroplasticity and Therapeutics near Paris. "It will really mean something" to the labs. Geneticist Judith Melki, director of the Molecular Neurogenetics Laboratory in the Paris suburb of Evry, adds that the influx of new money will help boost the "rather modest" support that INSERM labs have received in recent years.

Griscelli told Science that such a big increase was "entirely unexpected." Indeed, other public research organizations were awarded smaller amounts--the basic research agency CNRS, for example, will receive a 9% research boost. Griscelli says that one reason the government smiled so brightly on INSERM may be that the agency has been willing to shape its research agenda according to priorities laid down by the research ministry, which wants to see life sciences research pay off in new therapies and products (Science, 8 September, p. 1667). While CNRS researchers have strongly resisted what many see as government meddling in research directions, INSERM has largely accepted the government's guiding hand. Thus the new money will be spent in a number of priority areas, including gene therapy, vaccines, psychiatric research, and epidemiology.

Griscelli insists that basic science will continue to receive strong support at INSERM: "I do not want to prioritize by diminishing funds for fundamental research."

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