September 22, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

King’s Cross is an area of London that could really do with a spring clean and a lick of paint and the recently opened St Pancras Hotel has hoped to do just that. It cannot be denied that this incredible building has brought a new sense of class to the area; however, a £730 million project will soon be underway which will put this rejuvenated ‘gothic treasure’ to shame.

Previously called the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI) and dubbed the ‘superlab’, this new building on Brill Place aims to be the leading biomedical research centre in Europe if not the world. A major goal of the centre will be to push forward developments in the treatment and prevention of cancer alongside research programmes spanning a wide range of conditions and diseases including neurodegeneration, infectious disease, circulatory conditions and immune system disorders. The MRC’s National Institute for Medical Research and two research sites belonging to Cancer Research are set to close as their staff and budgets are transferred to the UKCMRI along with 100 UCL staff.

Initially sponsored by University College London, The Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research and the Medical Research Council, the UKCMRI has been attracting new partners and even a shiny new name. Not bad for something that isn’t even built yet. London universities Imperial College and King’s College have signalled that they will be contributing £40million pound a piece to the start-up fund, almost as much as UCL’s £46million contribution. Despite this sudden windfall, the construction costs are expected to remain the same. The Chief Executive Paul Nurse is hopeful that the money will go towards increasing the breadth of knowledge and quality of biomedical research that will take place.

Imperial College are confident that their expertise in commercialising research and applying physical sciences to biomedicine will be a valuable asset, and King’s College highlighted their excellence in psychological, psychiatric and social science research. It is hoped that this huge financial investment and diverse range of expertise will help the UKCMRI reach its goals of curing cancer and the flu.

The centre’s new name more appropriately reflects these ambitious goals as ‘UKCMRI’ has been dropped to make way for something a little sexier. Not that much sexier though, this is still a science institute don’t forget. When construction work begins in July, the centre will be officially renamed after a heavyweight of English science – Francis Crick. The Francis Crick Institute will be completed in three years time and the revolution of healthcare can begin.

Not everybody is as confident about the project as many in the scientific community seem to be. This week the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee voiced their doubts about The Francis Crick ‘superlab’. They are not denying the scientific potential the new site will hold, but seem to have rather a large problem over it’s chosen location:

“…The advantages of co-location with universities and hospitals and access to good transport links, which the committee accepts play a fundamental role in the centre’s vision, come at a price: extra construction costs; a site incapable of expansion and the concentration of medical sciences in the ‘golden triangle’ in the south of England.”

The committee are concerned that the already high concentration of biomedical research in the South-east will prevent the rest of the UK from benefitting from the centre. To me this seems like nitpicking but some have felt strongly enough about the location to take the streets and protest, very on-trend! The protestors claimed that email; telephones and even the increasingly reliable tube network are enough to offset the need for The Francis Crick Institute to be located centrally.

Despite this niggling issue, the committee have still admitted that the Institute is a project of national importance with the potential to deliver significant improvements in health. So let’s hope the proximity to King’s Cross doesn’t hinder the fight against cancer. There is only one way to find out…roll on 2014!