GlaxoSmithKline has joined forces with its former chairman Sir Richard Sykes and unveiled what will be a world-leading medical research imaging centre in west London.

The Clinical Imaging Centre, which is based at Hammersmith Hospital in the west of the UK capital, sees GSK, Imperial College London (where Sir Richard is rector) and the Medical Research Council joining forces to set up the largest imaging centre in Europe.

GSK said that the new centre represents an investment of over £50 million and “is a pioneering collaboration between industry, academia and the public sector”. It will “combine the expertise and knowledge each partner has developed” in the use of imaging technologies, the company claimed, and will apply it to the development of new medicines across a broad range of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and psychiatric and neurological disorders.

The drug giant’s chairman of R&D, Moncef Slaoui, said GSK's investment in this state-of-the-art research facility “reflects the positive environment for science and innovation in the UK” and noted that “the science we conduct here will transform the lives of patients in the UK and around the world. It is important to us, and to the UK, that the environment remains supportive”.

Sir Richard was also impressed, saying that the centre is “a prime example of what can be achieved when universities, government and industry work side by side. It enables us to translate our scientific advances into improving patient care as quickly as possible”. Alistair Darling, UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who officially opened the centre, added that the collaboration "means a world leading facility based here in the UK bringing the best of industry and academia together backed by the Government. It will give researchers what they need to enhance our reputation as a world leader in science”.

GSK has made a ten-year commitment to invest an additional £11 million a year into the centre, which will use and advance the latest technologies in magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography. Its facilities include an advanced radiochemistry development facility, two MRI machines and two PET scanners which give the unit the capacity to conduct up to 2,500 scans annually. It will have an initial workforce of around 80 people, rising eventually to 400 researchers and support staff.

It’s all about image

Imaging technology certainly has a lot to offer in the discovery of new medicines, as it allows both disease processes and the action of drugs in humans to be studied in incredibly fine detail, right down at the molecular level.

"Imaging is allowing us to go further than many of us had imagined possible in understanding how the human body works and is an area which will greatly inform therapeutic interventions and drug development in the years to come," explained Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council.