Moving out? Pasteur director Philippe Kourilsky may step down following the uproar surrounding the relocation of the institute.

Controversial Pasteur Move Scuttled

Martin is a contributing news editor and writer based in Amsterdam

PARIS--Scientists at France's Pasteur Institute are elated by a report from British mediator John Skehel that has scuttled a controversial plan to move part of the institute to a commercial site outside Paris.

Loath to leave their historic campus in the lively 15th arrondissement of Paris, Pasteur staff had vehemently opposed the move of several units to a 17,000 square meter complex in Fresnes, south of Paris, donated by Pfizer. Pasteur director Philippe Kourilsky said the move, which might be temporary, was necessary to carry out renovations on key buildings on the Paris campus. In response, Pasteur's board of directors resigned en masse on 12 January (ScienceNOW, 13 January).

But Skehel, director of the Medical Research Council's National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) in London, has concluded that the building posing the biggest problem, called Daclaux, can be renovated in two stages. Uprooted staff could be temporarily relocated to Biotop, an on-campus building that's now home to biotech start-ups. Biotop residents, in turn, could be offered temporary housing in a Paris science park.

The heads of Pasteur's 12 scientific departments, to whom Skehel presented his conclusions on 17 February, are generally "very pleased," says Brigitte Gicquel, director of the Microbial Pathogenesis department. "The recommendations are very precise, very clear, and they are feasible," she says.

Some scientists say Kourilsky, having staunchly defended the move and already under fire for his abrasive management tactics, may decide to step down. A Pasteur spokesperson says Kourilsky will not comment, but a short statement issued on his behalf says a study group would be formed soon to analyze the report and its consequences. All decisions are on hold, however, until a new, 20-member board of directors is elected by Pasteur's General Meeting on 15 March.

It's unclear what abandoning the move would mean for the Fresnes complex. One option would be to rent it out, a spokesperson says. Complicating matters further, the French government has recently floated an even more drastic plan: to lure the entire Pasteur campus to Palaiseau, 22 kilometers southwest of Paris. There, it would become one of a number of regional centers of scientific expertise and innovation being promoted by the government--along with the prestigious École Polytechnique and other institutions.

Related sites
The Pasteur Institute
Skehel's homepage

Posted in Europe