5.172 Dr Harash Narang is a microbiologist who was employed by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) at Newcastle General Hospital from 1973 to 1994. In his statement to the Inquiry he told us that he had spent some 30 years of his professional career studying spongiform encephalopathies. The emergence of BSE was naturally of particular interest to Dr Narang. A policy decision was taken that the PHLS should not be involved in investigating the potential implications for public health. Because of this there was no scope for Dr Narang's employment to embrace research into BSE with the Neuropathogenesis Unit (NPU). He was, however, permitted to carry out such research at Newcastle in his own time.
5.173 Unfortunately a dispute developed between Dr Narang and the PHLS which resulted in Dr Narang's suspension. We have not been concerned with details of that dispute. What we have been concerned with are allegations that Dr Narang was unfairly treated by MAFF and that potentially valuable scientific advances made by Dr Narang were disregarded, or failed to receive the support that they merited.
5.174 Dr Narang has, from the time of the emergence of BSE, had his own theory as to its cause, based on earlier research into scrapie. Unlike those who espouse Dr Prusiner's 'protein only' theory, Dr Narang believes that nucleic acid is instrumental in producing TSEs and has coined the term 'nemavirus' to describe the agent which he considers responsible for the disease.
5.175 The claims made by or on behalf of Dr Narang have related to lack of support for three different tests of the presence of a TSE, which Dr Narang contended could be of practical value in diagnosing BSE or CJD. These were:
5.176 We propose to examine some of the evidence relating to the consideration given by MAFF to requests from Dr Narang for assistance in developing these tests. The object of doing so is not to explore the technical aspects of Dr Narang's work, but to consider the allegations that MAFF was at fault in failing to support this. At their most extreme, these alleged that MAFF were motivated by a reluctance to develop a test which would disclose the extent to which BSE was present in apparently healthy cattle.
5.177 We have not sought to set out a comprehensive account of dealings between MAFF and Dr Narang, but to give a sufficient account to give a fair illustration of the attitude of MAFF officials and Ministers to Dr Narang's requests for assistance, making reference to internal documentation, including drafts for proposed correspondence about him.
5.178 During 1985 and 1986, Dr Narang and his co-workers claimed to have developed a post-mortem diagnostic test for spongiform encephalopathies, in particular scrapie, and a description of this work was published in 1987. 2 The test, which we refer to as the touch test, offered potential for rapid routine diagnosis of SEs as an adjunct or alternative to histopathology (the study of microscopic changes in diseased tissues). Although the test had not been developed specifically with BSE in mind, Dr Narang told us that it could 'provide a rapid means of diagnosis of BSE with very little handling and risk of exposure'. 3 Similarly he considered that it could be used to diagnose CJD. 4 The test methodology is described in more detail in vol.2: Science.
Preparation and examination was carried out on six randomised scrapie and normal brains and correct results were recorded on all six brains within two and a half hours from start to finish. 5
5.180 On 14 January 1988, Dr Narang presented a paper on the touch test to the 74th meeting of the British Neuropathological Society. 6 Among the other papers presented to the meeting on that day was an early paper on BSE by Mr Gerald Wells and Mr Tony Scott from CVL entitled, 'Neuronal vacuolation and spongiosus: a novel encephalopathy of adult cattle.' 7
5.181 In a minute of 19 January 1988 updating Dr Watson on various BSE issues, Mr Bradley mentioned the paper given by Dr Narang at the meeting of the British Neuropathological Society, and his subsequent requests for assistance from SVS staff:
He has since contacted a large number of SVS staff including VIC and CVL staff. Gerald Wells has spoken with him and he also spoke to Tony Scott . . . He is particularly active in EM [electron microscopy] diagnosis (rapid) using fresh brain material directly onto grids - a halfway house between SAF studies and TEM of sections. These are called 'Touch Preparations' I believe. He is after some fresh brain material for trying his technique and also for purifying BSE DNA. I instructed Gerald Wells not to commit to collaborative studies and not to pass up fresh material until we had your/CVO's agreement but to develop a working relationship for discussion purposes . . . 8
5.182 On 12 August 1988, Dr Narang contacted CVL from the USA, to propose the use of the touch test for diagnosing BSE. 9 He offered to talk to the CVL in Weybridge about his test. Dr Watson replied on 23 August, inviting Dr Narang to Weybridge to discuss the progress he had made. 10 He asked him to contact his deputy, Dr Brian Shreeve, on his return to the UK to arrange an appropriate date.
5.183 Dr Narang said in evidence that he did not receive this information at the time and that he did not hear from MAFF until 11 months later, when they invited him to come to Weybridge in August 1989. 11 We are satisfied that Dr Watson sent the letter. It is unfortunate that it seems to have gone astray.
5.184 Based on Dr Narang's proposals, on 2 February 1989 Mr Wells, Mr Dawson and Mr Scott produced a minute entitled, 'Summary of tentative proposals/requested collaboration with Dr H Narang'. 12 It detailed potential benefits to CVL/MAFF. These included the acquisition of a rapid diagnosis of BSE cases and, subject to the sensitivity of the test, a way of screening brains at the abattoir. The minute invited comment from Mr Bradley. The summary noted that conditions for collaboration had been raised by and discussed with Dr Narang.
5.185 Mr Bradley responded on the same day recommending that the CVL 'immediately initiate' experiments to enable Dr Narang to demonstrate his 'touch preparation method'. Mr Bradley commented 'overall this seems too good an opportunity to miss with many potential benefits for CVL/MAFF'. 13
5.186 On 8 February 1989, Mr Wells wrote to Mr Michael Dawson at the CVL Virology Department to discuss a project application from Dr Narang to the MRC, which Dr Narang had sent to Mr Wells for comment. 14 The application was to fund the development of the touch test. Mr Wells explained that Dr Narang was in a hurry to get the application sent off. He said that:
I am unhappy about the lack of medical purpose behind the project application - it seems purely a veterinary aim. Harash may have specific reason for not including it but he did tell us that he saw a future for the touch preparation method in diagnosis of CJD.
I find it difficult to support whole heartedly, as written, because it suggests that the technique is vital to us, which is really not the case. It would, however, be a useful additional diagnostic and research tool.
5.188 On 13 February 1989, Mr Dawson wrote to Dr Narang, incorporating comments from Dr Wells and Mr Bradley on his MRC project proposal. 15 They concluded that 'the case would be more comprehensive and better balanced if there was more emphasis on the potential benefits for CJD diagnosis'.
5.189 On 18 March 1989, Mr Bradley wrote to Dr David Shannon, with copies to Dr Watson and Dr Kenneth MacOwan, about the BSE research and development programme. In relation to the proposed collaboration with Dr Narang on the touch test, he said:
This clearly has a potential benefit to MAFF and this and other work would be funded from his sources but the provision of material would remain with us . . . We should allow £10K for our expenses to support Dr Narang. 16
5.190 In June 1989 Mr Bradley chaired the third BSE research and development progress meeting at the CVL. 17 In addition to others from CVL, the meeting was attended by Dr Hope and other representatives of NPU and by Dr MacOwan of the Chief Scientist's Group. Collaboration with Dr Narang was briefly discussed. The note of the meeting recorded:
This so far had been of limited benefit. The poor success achieved on the initial examination of 'touch preparations' places the scientific merit of continuing the exercise in question. Dr Narang had reported that he had been unsuccessful in his application for funds from MRC. Dr Hope's opinion is that the single-stranded DNA demonstrated by Dr Narang is an artefact. Further collaboration would not be encouraged. Dr Narang may seek funding from MAFF Chief Scientist. 18
5.191 Dr Narang told us that in August 1989 he visited CVL to present a seminar on his 'touch technique'. 19
5.192 Dr Narang telephoned Mr Bradley on 7 November 1989 to request funding from MAFF for further studies and access to more cow brains, both infected ones and controls. Mr Bradley informed him that the CVL had no funds, and advised Dr Narang to discuss this with Dr MacOwan of Chief Scientist's Group. On the request for the provision of further brain samples, Mr Bradley said that he would discuss this with Dr Watson and others at CVL. 20
5.193 On 16 November, Dr Narang submitted a research proposal entitled, 'Development of routine diagnostic test for BSE as an alternative to histopathology', to Dr MacOwan under MAFF's Open Contracting scheme. 21
5.194 The minutes of the fourth BSE research and development progress meeting on 21 November 1989 record some discussion about Dr Narang's request for access to brain tissue from three animals and abattoir controls. 22 The minutes said:
While CVL wished to be helpful he had caused some upset there when he visited and they did not want him using CVL facilities or the CVL name in relation to his work. Mr Dawson pointed out that he had at present no funding and Mr Bradley said this material would only be required if funding was forthcoming. Dr MacOwan said Narang had applied to the Chief Scientist for minimal funding and that if his request for money was granted any information his work produced would be for the Chief Scientist. While to date it was unheard of for the Chief Scientist to stop work being published this was possible. The contract made with the Chief Scientist when funding was granted was to protect the customer. Dr MacOwan asked the meeting to be more specific in their dismissal of Dr Narang's work as this had a bearing on the result of the request for funding. Mr Dawson said he [Dr Narang] had come to CVL at his own request to show them the technique he had developed for finding fibrils using the electron microscope. He had used animal necropsy facilities, the senior electron microscopist and his deputy all day and had treated CVL personnel like servants. They had been understandably annoyed. Out of a whole day's work he had found only 2 fibrils, 1 of which was on the first grid. He had only reported this first, immediate result and ignored all the failures. Mr Dawson said the technique was extremely insensitive even in Dr Narang's hands for the diagnosis of clinical BSE. 23
5.195 The meeting agreed that 'material should be released to him but no other facilities provided'. 24
5.196 On 27 November 1989, Mr Bradley wrote to Ms Claire Goodson and Mr Mark Hawkins of the Animal Health Veterinary Group (AHVG), to secure surveillance funding for costs the CVL would incur in cooperating in a proposed study with Dr Narang. 25 In his minute Mr Bradley commented:
. . . there is some scientific merit in initiating a small study under the supervision of MAFF staff who alone will do the histological diagnosis perhaps on 5 control and 5 diseased animals in the first instance. We will not accept Dr Narang here but will try to help in a suitable way eg. via a local VIC. 26
5.197 Mr Bradley's proposal differed from that for which Dr Narang had sought funding on 16 November 1989. 27 Dr MacOwan told us:
The small study proposed was for the diagnosis of five control cattle brains and five BSE infected cattle brains. Mr Bradley was seeking funding from the AHVG surveillance budget for the costs which would be incurred by the CVL in supplying material to Dr Narang and in carrying out the histological diagnosis on the ten cattle brains to confirm Dr Narang's results. Dr Narang obtained funding from a private individual, Mr Ken Bell, in May, 1990 and at that stage approval was given for funding of the CVL's costs, I believe out of the AHVG's surveillance budget. 28
5.198 Dr MacOwan said in written evidence that Dr Narang's proposal of 16 November was considered at an appraisal meeting early in 1990, which was attended by the Scientific Liaison Officers responsible for managing MAFF research, the Deputy Scientist and the Chief Scientist. 29 He explained that these meetings considered large numbers of projects across the whole spectrum of MAFF's work, and only brief minutes outlining the action points were prepared by administrative attendees from the Research and Development Division. Mr Bradley was later to explain that although he had proposed a blind trial, it seemed that the Chief Scientist's Group decided not to fund the project since it did not fit in with Tyrrell proposals to develop a test in the live animal. 30
5.199 On 25 January 1990, B Woodbridge of MAFF Chief Scientist Group wrote to Dr Narang to inform him that his application had not been selected for funding. 31
5.200 On 30 May 1990, Dr Narang wrote to Dr Joseph Smith (later Sir Joseph Smith), Director of the PHLS, at PHLS Headquarters to inform him that he had not been able to carry out his research into work for a test for BSE, because MAFF had turned down his application for funding. Dr Narang informed Dr Smith that he had been approached by a private individual who was willing to provide up to £20,000 to the development of the test. He added that he hoped that 'the necessary co-operation from all concerned will now be forthcoming'. 32 The source of Dr Narang's funding was Mr Ken Bell, the owner of a substantial food business and for whom the PHLS were undertaking private work at the time.
5.201 Dr Narang copied the letter to Mr Bradley, who circulated it to Mr Meldrum and others in MAFF, adding in a manuscript note that 'this will undoubtedly lead to requests for brain material. We should decide how these should be dealt with'. 33
5.202 On 5 June 1990, Mr Crawford wrote to Mr Meldrum to inform him that there was much media interest in Dr Narang's private funding from Ken Bell and that the CVL would be cooperating with Dr Narang. They would provide him with fresh brain sections from five BSE-suspect cattle and five 'normal' cattle. 34 Dr Narang would then identify the BSE-infected samples and inform CVL of his diagnosis within half a day of receipt of the samples.
5.203 A minute sent by Mr Bradley to Dr Shreeve and others on 25 June 1990 described in detail the arrangements whereby Dr Narang would receive material from CVL, as agreed in November 1989 (see paragraphs 5.193-5.195). 35 On 29 June 1990, Mr Bradley sent a minute to Mr Holden of the CVL finance department, copied to Mr Shreeve, about the arrangements for collaborating with Dr Narang. He asked for any necessary costing and invoicing arrangements to be put in place, and advised that 'Dr Narang on past evidence is likely to make a large number of demands upon us'. 36
5.204 On 23 October 1990, a formal meeting was held to peer review Dr Narang's work. 37 The review was set up by Dr J Smith, Director of the PHLS, in response to a request from Dr N Lightfoot of PHLS Newcastle, who was concerned that Dr Narang was working in isolation, with no peer review and without expert help. Dr Lightfoot supported Dr Narang's work and wished to see the test validated with the help of others working in the same field. Dr Smith invited external experts to assist in the review - Professor H Smith from the Department of Physiology, University of Birmingham as Chairman, Professor Edwardson of the MRC Neurochemical Pathology Unit, Newcastle, and Dr Bostock of the IAH. 38 Dr Smith attended for the PHLS, and Dr Lightfoot and Dr Narang attended for part of the time.
5.205 The note of the meeting indicates that the discussions were wide-ranging. In relation to the collaborative work with CVL on the validation of the touch test, the notes record that 'Dr Narang has been offered and received material from Weybridge but failed to give results'. 39 The meeting broadly endorsed continuing the work, using external funding, to validate the touch test. 40
5.206 On 8 November 1990, Mr Ken Bell wrote to Dr Lightfoot, asking why he had not been informed of any progress on Dr Narang's work, even though it had been six months since funds had been made available. 41 He said that:
You will realise I will be very annoyed if anyone is wilfully holding up this work, I am being pressed by interested parties waiting for your report of progress.
5.207 Dr Lightfoot replied on 13 November, stating that 'I wish to reassure you that no one is holding up Dr Narang's research work and that at a recent review his work was supported'. 42 He added that a full report was being prepared, which would include details of expenditure and would be forwarded to him within the next few days.
. . . I have been a colleague of Dr Narang's for the past ten years and have tried to provide advice and support for him in his relatively isolated research position during this period.
One of the major issues at the PHLS review was the need for Dr Narang to validate his 'touch technique' for the rapid post-mortem diagnosis of BSE in a blind trial, and I am aware of the proposed collaboration which has been set up with CVL to do just this. Yesterday Dr Narang came to see me about the slow pace at which this research is proceeding and after discussion with Dr Lightfoot, his Director, I agreed to write to you. I gather that, since the study was agreed, two brains became available in September, and there have been no more specimens since then. While I appreciate the various factors which need to be controlled for in this study, it is difficult to understand why the provision of tissue should be so slow, given what I understand is the prevalence of BSE locally. 43
I have always had (and still have so far as I know) a good personal relationship with Dr Narang and I am very disturbed at the attitude you suggest he is taking. Research success depends upon good working relationships and I am anxious that any deficits are repaired as soon as possible. 44
Between the 22nd September 1990 and the 8th January 1991 I was given 10 brain samples by MAFF to be examined to establish whether they were contaminated with BSE. The delay was caused by MAFF's difficulties in finding ten control brains. The results of these tests were returned to MAFF by me on the day I received the specimens. Several months passed and the people who were interested in my researches were becoming increasingly concerned that MAFF had still not published the results of their tests on the 10 samples of brain. On the 13th March 1991, David Clark M P Shadow Minster for Food and Agriculture wrote to Dr Lightfoot asking why there was a delay. Shortly after this I received a report from MAFF confirming that my tests had positively identified the presence or absence of BSE in 8 out of 10 cattle brains. The test had not identified the presence of BSE in 2 of the brains. Although the score was not 100%, I viewed the results as encouraging. It has to be remembered that the test involved examining potentially infected material in order to identify whether or not Nemavirus/SAF were present. It is possible for the examiner to miss the presence, although the chances of this will be reduced by further refinement of the test and/or by identifying more precisely the areas of the brain to be examined. (The number and distribution of NVP vary from one area of the brain to another.) I had no control over the supply of the material and only very small quantities of material were supplied. If additional samples had been provided from each brain, it is likely that the two additional affected brains would have been positively identified.
Of great significance is the fact that none of the negative samples were identified as positive. 45
5.212 On 13 March 1991 Dr David Clark, the Shadow Minister for Food and Agriculture, wrote to Dr Lightfoot expressing his interest in the work of Dr Narang, having received information from Mr Ken Bell on his work. He wrote of his disappointment in the 'apparent delay' by MAFF in publishing the results of Dr Narang's tests on the ten brain specimens. He told Dr Lightfoot that he intended to put down a Parliamentary Question to find out why a delay had occurred. 46
5.213 Dr Clark's Parliamentary Question was tabled shortly after this and asked if the results of Dr Narang's test on bovine brains supplied by MAFF were to be published. The reply stated that the publication of the results was a matter for Dr Narang, but that all the material and data requested by him, had been provided by the Department. 47 The response to the PQ was provided by Mr Lowson, who in his covering minute commented that Dr Narang's results 'will show that he only identified three of the confirmed positive cases, and one of these three was originally reported by Dr Narang as being negative'. 48
5.214 On 15 March 1991, Mr Anderson, Senior Veterinary Investigation Officer at Newcastle, sent Dr Narang the results of the histopathology and the analysis of scrapie associated fibrils undertaken by CVL on the ten samples of brains from ten cattle supplied to him. 49 A few days later, Mr Bradley wrote to Dr Narang comparing the results from the CVL diagnosis and the touch test diagnosis on the ten samples of brain. The touch test had failed to identify two of the five BSE-positive brain samples:
BSE was confirmed in each case by brain histology and supported by the finding of scrapie associated fibrils in each BSE case. All studies were done blind as were your own.
In contrast your own studies aimed at detecting tubulo-filamentous structures failed to identify two brains as being from BSE-affected animals. The other animals were correctly identified.
I am quite willing to discuss the results with you but consider that the failure to identify two BSE positive animals seriously detracts from the value of your test as a practical substitute for brain histology in BSE diagnosis.
Please give me a call if there is anything you wish to discuss otherwise I feel we should consider the study concluded. 50
5.215 In his evidence to the Inquiry, Dr Narang said that the fact that the touch test had not identified two brains as being BSE positive was because he had no control over the supply of the material he was given and he was only given very small quantities of material. 51 He said:
If additional samples had been provided from each brain, it is likely that the two additional affected brains would have been positively identified.
5.216 He further said that the validity of the supply of material was a concern. In particular, the dates on the form that arrived with the samples differed from those that were shown on MAFF's final report on 15 March. He therefore thought that there had been a mix-up of specimens in MAFF's laboratory, so that the laboratories were perhaps not examining the same specimens.
5.217 On 17 April 1991, the Independent published a letter from Dr David Clark on the subject of MAFF's collaboration with Dr Narang. 52 He mentioned that a private businessman had sponsored Dr Narang after his application for funding had been turned down. According to Dr Clark, MAFF 'then systematically set out to scupper the research.' For example after weeks of delay, samples of cattle brains were offered at £150 a piece for Dr Narang to work on, although the local abattoir would have happily supplied them at £1.50.
The Government has consistently mishandled the whole BSE affair and is terrified that if a simple diagnostic test became available, random sampling could reveal the true extent of the disease in our cows.
5.219 In response, Mr David Maclean, the Parliamentary Secretary (Commons), wrote to Dr Clark on 18 April 1991, and copied the letter to the editor of the Independent. The letter asserted that an effective post-mortem test for BSE already existed and that when Dr Narang's proposal had been compared to other applications it had not been considered of sufficient merit. He also said:
Although we have not provided funding we have co-operated fully with Dr Narang in his work by supplying brains from confirmed affected and unaffected animals. I believe that results of the study are now available and look forward to their being made public. The charge made only reflected the considerable amount of professional and technical time that went into ensuring he was provided with suitable samples to test his method. Brains straight from an abattoir could not have been used: had they been suitable no doubt he would have used them. 53
5.220 On 23 April a joint CVL/NPU meeting was held to discuss progress with BSE research and development. 54 The results of the touch test were discussed, amongst other things. In relation to these results, the minutes record:
Despite the difficulties faced by Mr Lowson and others because of questions raised in the House of Parliament on behalf of Dr Narang, the meeting did not think it ethical to divulge Dr Narang's results - that was a matter for him. 55
5.221 On 12 June 1991, Dr Clark wrote to Mr Gummer asking whether the AFRC had received a grant application from Dr Narang. 56 It seems that the application had been submitted by Dr Narang to PHLS Head Office, for onward transmission to the AFRC. On 18 June, Mr Maslin sent MAFF's Correspondence Section a draft reply for Mr Gummer to send to Dr Clark. In his covering minute, Mr Maslin advised that MAFF had no responsibility for grant applications to the AFRC, and continued:
I understand (by simply phoning them) that to date the AFRC has had no application from Dr Narang. It may however still be in the pipeline and I suggest that it is not for us to say so.
No application for work on a live BSE test has been made by Dr Narang under our Open Contracting Fund. 57
5.222 The draft reply to Dr Clark confirmed that the research councils were the responsibility of the Department of Education and Science, and that his letter had been sent on to a Minister in that Department. 58
5.223 On 18 June 1991, Dr Clark wrote to Mr Gummer alleging that Dr Narang had recently completed ten tests on bovine brains which had proved to be 80 per cent successful. Dr Clark made a request that ten more samples of bovine brain tissue be supplied to Dr Narang so that he could carry out another set of tests. 59
I understand that it is not really 'the done thing' to discuss the results of research which have not been published and therefore made available for scrutiny by the scientific community. However, as Dr Clark appears to be aware of the results of Dr Narang's research, I believe we should take the opportunity to try and lay this matter to rest by giving him the correct results and pointing out that the test used is simply not accurate enough.
At the same time we can express disappointment that Dr Narang has not yet made public the results of his research. 60
It is surprising that Dr Narang has not yet made public the results of his research. The absence of such information makes sensible discussion of the issues impossible.
If Dr Narang intends to proceed with further tests he should submit a detailed research proposal to us. In the light of this we will of course be prepared to consider a request for further brain material. 61
5.226 On 17 July 1991, Dr Narang wrote to Mr Gummer informing him that he had seen the reply of 6 July to Dr Clark. Dr Narang enclosed various research papers and a draft paper on his validation of the touch test which, he advised Mr Gummer, was being 'held for internal review' within PHLS. He also commented that he had submitted an application for an AFRC research grant for further work to develop a diagnostic test in live animals. 62 Mr Adrian Dixon, of the Animal Health (Disease Control) Division sought comments from Mr Bradley and Mr Gardner in DAFS about this letter. Mr Dixon noted that DH had asked to be consulted on correspondence between Dr Narang and MAFF. He suggested that MAFF's reply would 'probably just be to thank him for the information which he supplied'. 63
5.227 Mr Gardner replied to Mr Dixon on 1 August 1991. He highlighted the fact that the scientific community did not generally agree with Dr Narang's theories about the infectious agent. He also stated that the touch test would not be as effective as the existing histological methods. However he added:
Notwithstanding these comments I would think that research into EM [electron microscopic] diagnostic methods could be worthwhile. However, a first step would seem to be the publication of Dr Narang's work and subjecting it to proper scientific scrutiny.
I would suggest that you draft a neutral reply thanking him for the information contained in his draft paper. 64
5.228 On 9 August 1991, Mr Michael Harrison (Mr Gummer's Private Secretary) replied to Dr Narang thanking him for his letter and research papers into SEs and stating that 'we look forward to the publication of your results in the scientific press in due course'. 65
5.229 On 2 September 1992, Mr Dale Campbell-Savours (Labour MP for Workington) telephoned Mr Soames (MAFF Parliamentary Secretary), explaining that he was due to meet Dr Narang the next day. He asked Mr Soames about the reasons for MAFF's lack of support for Dr Narang's diagnostic test for BSE. Mr Soames undertook to provide Mr Campbell-Savours with a short note about this before the meeting. Mr Maslin was asked to provide the note. 66
5.230 Mr Maslin's note set out MAFF's previous involvement with Dr Narang, starting with the application for funding in 1990. 67 He stated:
[Dr Narang's] proposal was turned down because an effective and accurate post-mortem diagnostic test already exists and, when compared to other project applications, it was not considered of sufficient merit to warrant funding. What was and is important is the development of an ante-mortem test and substantial funds are being devoted to research in this area.
In the event Dr Narang obtained private finance to conduct his research. But we have cooperated fully with Dr Narang by supplying brains from confirmed and negative cases of BSE. A charge was made for the time and technical expertise which went into meeting his requirements.
The refusal of MAFF funds led Dr Narang to the newspapers and Dr Clark, the previous opposition spokesman on agriculture, who both took it up as an issue.
As far as we are aware, Dr Narang has still not subjected his work to the normal scientific peer review by publishing it as a refereed article in a reputable scientific journal. (Dr Narang did supply a copy of his paper in earlier correspondence. Although we cannot officially comment on it, scientific and veterinary colleagues had serious criticisms of the work.) 68
5.231 On 3 September, Mr Campbell-Savours wrote to Mr Soames to request a meeting between Dr Narang, himself, Mr Soames and other civil servants, with the aim of discussing Dr Narang's research. 69 Mr Soames replied on 29 September. 70 He declined the offer of a meeting and went on to set out further details of why MAFF had not funded Dr Narang's work. He said that although Dr Narang's work had been carefully considered his application for funding was rejected on the following grounds:
. . . as a result of the Ministry's involvement in the work, and since Dr Narang sent a draft of his report to the Minister, we are aware of some aspects of it. In general terms, the accuracy of his tests appeared to fall below that of the current method for confirmation of BSE by brain histology and that which would be necessary for any practical use. Let me stress again, however, that we have not seen the published results and are eager to do so.
Finally, I would re-emphasise that Dr Narang's work relates to a post-mortem test, not to one that can be used in the live animal. The need for an effective diagnostic test in the live animal still exists and research has been underway for some time to address this. The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee which reported in April 1992 has considered all areas of spongiform encephalopathy research and are satisfied that this important area is being adequately addressed. 72
5.233 Mr Campbell-Savours replied to Mr Soames on 16 October 1992. 73 He commented that he had discussed the reply with Dr Narang who advised that MAFF seem to have misunderstood the position: Dr Narang wished to discuss a new test that he was developing for use ante-mortem. Mr Campbell-Savours reiterated his request for a meeting.
It remains the case that we in MAFF have had no direct approach from Dr Narang about any research work other than the development of the post-mortem test which I mentioned in my earlier letter . . .
On the basis of what you say and of a number of indirect approaches that have been made to officials, it does seem that he is now pursuing a new line of enquiry. I am therefore asking the BSE adviser at the Central Veterinary Laboratory to contact Dr Narang to arrange for him to make a presentation about his work (possibly involving scientists from outside MAFF as well). If the work looks promising we would certainly want then to encourage Dr Narang to work up a formal research proposal for us to consider. 74
5.235 On 13 November 1992, Mr Bradley wrote to Dr Narang to invite him to attend a meeting to present and discuss the results of his recent research findings on TSEs in animals and man. The letter opened with the following remarks:
The Ministry of Agriculture places a high priority on the development of a cost effective test to detect infectivity in the live animal in respect of these diseases and in particular scrapie and BSE. Indeed, there is much work funded by MAFF and others to secure this objective. We are always interested to assess new ideas on the nature of the agents causing TSEs including the work done by independent researchers such as yourself . . . 75
It would be especially valuable to present your ideas on how, and how quickly you consider the results of your work so far can be applied to detection of infectivity in the live animal and particularly in the pre-clinical phase of disease. 76
5.237 He accordingly proposed a seminar to be attended by a small group of researchers and others with a special knowledge or interest in TSEs. 77
5.238 The seminar was held on 17 December. In addition to MAFF and CVL representatives, attendees included Dr Tyrrell, Professor Jeffrey Almond and Dr Chris Bostock. 78 On 19 December Mr Bradley minuted Dr Shreeve, Mr Lowson and others in MAFF about the reactions to, and the outcome of, Dr Narang's presentation. He said that the seminar went off without mishap and several members of the audience thought it was valuable. However, several members of the audience had reservations about some aspects of the science. He concluded:
I recommend that consideration be given to funding Project proposals aimed at verifying Dr Narang's work so far and also to other projects aimed at extending this knowledge but without favour, and based upon their scientific merits. Proposals should be peer-reviewed by MAFF and non-MAFF molecular biologists. 79
5.239 Shortly after the seminar, Dr Narang applied for a research contract with MAFF on 29 December for development of a live test for scrapie/BSE, involving the isolation of a single-stranded DNA which had particular features in BSE-infected brains. 80
5.240 On 27 January 1993, Mr Lowson reported to Mr Soames on the seminar. He noted that Dr Narang had acquitted himself well. However, there had been no attempt to draw any conclusions and no general consensus emerged; a number of members of the audience still retained their reservations about Dr Narang's approach to TSEs. He also reported:
Before the meeting was held, we had received a research proposal from Professor Oxford, who wants to validate Dr Narang's earlier work; and the AFRC had received another from Dr Narang and Professor Oxford jointly. After the meeting, we got one from Dr Narang himself. The first of these is a good proposal and, subject to some amendments, it could merit support. But it overlaps with the one submitted to the AFRC and over the next few weeks we will need to explore with them how any funding might be shared. 81
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