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Spanish cancer-research centre plans to cut 13% of jobs

Posted on behalf of Nuño Dominguez.

Spain’s leading cancer-research institution is planning 64 layoffs in an attempt to drastically reduce its growing budgetary problems. The Spanish National Cancer Research Centre plans to let go as many as 28 staff scientists and support staff, and to stop renewing temporary contracts for another 36 — for a total 13% reduction of the centre’s workforce. The decision is part of a “viability plan” aimed at overcoming ongoing funding problems.

The centre, known by its Spanish acronym CNIO,  is a public research organization with 470 employees, of whom 430 are scientists. In 2011, the SIR World Report ranked CNIO among the top ten biomedical research centres worldwide. Despite its scientific record, the centre has a growing budget deficit that skyrocketed to €8 million (US$10.6 million) this year. The debt will be contained with new “austerity measures” including layoffs, wage reductions and an extraordinary injection of €4 million by the Ministry of Economy. The plan aims to save €8 million a year between 2014 and 2016.

“I’m gobsmacked, we did not think they will reach such an extreme”, says Iñaki Pérez, a researcher in the CNIO’s cell division and cancer group. Pérez says that it is worth comparing the CNIO’s current situation with that at other leading cancer research centres worldwide. “CNIO has 430 scientists and its annual budget is €45 million, whereas Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has 600 scientists and an annual budget of €113 million. CNIO is a centre of excellence despite having a considerably lower budget, but it is difficult to believe that it can be brought down even more without compromising its quality,” he says.

The new viability plan was approved last week during an extraordinary meeting of the CNIO’s board of trustees, headed by Carmen Vela, secretary of state for research and development. María Blasco, CNIO director and leader of the telomeres and telomerase research group, was also present at the meeting. The new plan will now be subject to negotiation with CNIO staff.

“These adjustments will not translate into a reduction of the centre’s scientific production,” said the secretary of state of research, part of the ministry of economy, in a press release. The CNIO will “keep its excellence levels and its position as one of the best cancer research centres worldwide,” said the release. Vela declined to comment on how that will be achieved with a 13% cut in staff numbers.

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