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U.K. Bets Big on Biomedical Research Facility

5 December 2007 (All day)
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Michael Walter/Troika photos

New home.
The future London site of a proposed biomedical research facility.

The British Public Library may soon have a massive new neighbor. U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown today announced plans to build a £500 million biomedical research facility, hosting some 1500 scientists, on a plot of land in the heart of London. The research center would be among the largest of its kind in the world.

The new project, which is expected to combine both basic biology and clinical research under one roof, will be developed by an unusual collaboration between the U.K. Medical Research Council (MRC), two medical charities--the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK--and University College London. "Pooling our resources helps us invest in technologies we might not on our own," says Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, which will move more than 40 labs to the planned center.

Paul Nurse, a British biochemist, Nobel laureate, and president of Rockefeller University in New York City, will lead a planning committee to decide exactly what the site will contain by its predicted completion date of 2013. In addition to the Cancer Research UK labs, the World Influenza Centre--a component of MRC's National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR)--will occupy the land. Researchers at NIMR, which currently sits on the outskirts of London, have resisted past efforts to relocate downtown (Science, 4 February 2005), and MRC hasn't detailed how many of NIMR's other labs will be included in the new center.

The planned site is adjacent to the recently reopened St. Pancras terminal that connects the United Kingdom to the rest of Europe via high-speed rail. This aspect was "absolutely critical" for the project, as the transportation links will make international collaborations easier, says Wellcome Trust Director Mark Walport. The trust will contribute £100 million to the facility's construction. In addition, the proximity to the library will encourage science education efforts, he notes.

A government department sold the site to the collaboration for £85 million, despite receiving offers from private developers for more than £100 million. Local residents seeking affordable housing for the site may try to block the new research facility, however, as may those who fear that the new labs could expose London to accidentally released infectious agents.

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