The UK government has thrown its weight behind plans for a £500 million medical research centre in the centre of London that will pool resources from the Medical Research Council (MRC), Cancer Research UK, The Wellcome Trust and University College London.

A formal process is now underway to find architects, designers and engineers for the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI), which will be built next to the British Library and the newly opened Eurostar terminal at London’s St Pancreas station. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who said the UKCRMI would be “Europe’s leading centre for medical research”, attended a Downing Street seminar to launch the initiative after the government removed a key hurdle by agreeing to sell land previously set aside for expansion of the British Library to the partners in the venture.

The centre, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2013, will house up to 1,500 researchers and support staff in state-of-the-art facilities with access to teaching and specialist hospitals. Sir Paul Nurse, president of Rockefeller University in New York, US, will lead the scientific planning for the UKCMRI, determining the shape and direction of future research and the type of facilities needed to accommodate it.

According to the MRC, the pooled resources at the new centre will be able to “advance scientific understanding and allow the development of treatments to tackle and overcome the biggest healthcare issues we face both in the UK and the developing world. These include threats posed by viruses such as ‘flu and HIV, bacterial diseases like meningitis and tuberculosis and all diseases arising from modern lifestyles including cancers, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.”

Another important function will be training future generations of medical scientists equipped to translate research findings into health benefits for the population, the MRC noted. 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.

Global hubs
The UKCMRI will bring together science teams from the MRC’s National Institute for Medical Research, the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute and University College London, who will work closely with scientists in the surrounding universities and research-intensive hospitals. In addition, The Wellcome Trust will fund scientists working at the centre.

The intention is that the UKCMRI should compete and collaborate with other global hubs of scientific and medical excellence, such as Singapore’s Biopolis, The Allston Initiative at Harvard University in the US, and the Shanghai Science-based Industrial Park in China. Its location adjacent to the British Library and St Pancreas, a “national and international communication hub”, will be “key to the success of the centre”, commented Wellcome Trust director Mark Walport, adding that “medical science and science communication must be pursued in a global context”.

MRC chief executive Sir Leszek Borysiewicz said the initiative was “of crucial importance to the UK’s plans to ensure that medical research findings are turned into benefits for patients and the economy as efficiently as possible”. The UKCMRI would not only bring together academics and clinicians but would also present opportunities for industry to work with and alongside the assembled researchers, he pointed out.

“This will be enhanced by relocating the technology arms of Cancer Research UK and the MRC to this site,” Sir Leszek added.