Plans for the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI) have moved on a step following government approval of the business case for the institute, giving a boost to the UK's life sciences sector.
In further good news, the government has also signaled its support for a separate pan-Euroean project designed to help improve storage and access to the surging volume of biomolecular research data that may be used to develop future medicines, by ear-marking funds for the scheme.
It is hoped that the project, crowned the European Life-Science Infrastructure for Biological Information (ELIXIR), will substantially increase the quality and quantity of information at researchers' fingertips and ensure that this data is stored in a standardised format, and subject to ministerial approval, the facility will be housed at the European Bioinformatics Institute at the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Hinxton, Cambridge.
News that the UKCMRI is progressing will be particularly welcome given Pfizer's recent decision to close its largest European research and development operation in Sandwich, Kent, potentially affecting 2,400 jobs. Despite assurances from both Pfizer that the move is not a reflection of the environment in the UK, it could still knock investors' confidence in the country as a destination for R&D, just as the government is trying to tout its potential.
So the government will likely be keen to focus on other channels of bolstering the research sector while the fate of Pfizer's site in Sandwich is decided. And according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the UKCMRI will be "one of the most significant developments in UK biomedical science for a generation", offering a world-class base for scientists to undertake cutting-edge research with the latest technology to advance understanding of health and disease.
The Institute will be based in London - established through a partnership between the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, The Wellcome Trust and University College London - and aims to bring the country's best physical, biomedical and clinical scientists together to ensure that advances in biomedical sciences are quickly translated into benefits for patients and the economy.
The aim is also to strengthen collaboration between the research community and the National Health Service through links with London hospitals, develop communications with the general public, and promote science education among local children, as well as foster collaboration with other centres of excellence around the world to maintain the UK's global standing.
The government is stumping up £220 million of capital funding towards the development of the UKCMRI, on which construction is expected to start in May this year, so that the site can be operational by 2015.
"A strong research base is absolutely crucial to help secure long term economic growth, helping to rebalance the economy and creating the jobs of the future, which is why despite some tough spending decisions we have protected its funding," noted Prime Minister David Cameron. “We have some of the best scientists, excellent facilities and cutting edge technology, and it is our determination that we do all that we can to ensure the UK remains one of the world leaders in this field for many years to come,” he stressed.