'somewhat unusual' new research centre. Britain plans £600-million
biomedical facility for young investigators
United Kingdom grinds through its worst recession in decades, British researchers
have unveiled an ambitious design for a massive biomedical science complex
in central London. The UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI)
is the most significant scientific development in Britain "for a generation",
says Paul Nurse, a Nobel-prizewinning cell biologist and chair of the project's
says the state-of-the-art research centre will be among the largest in the
world. In Europe, it will be second in size only to the Paris-based Pasteur
Institute, he says. Its aim will be to understand the fundamental biology
that underlies disease.
detailed plans for the building, which will be located near London's St
Pancras International train station, were unveiled at a press briefing on
18 June and feature a distinctive glass atrium that stretches the length
of the entire structure. A small educational laboratory and a 450-seat lecture
theatre also feature in the design, which will include lab and office space
for 1,500 staff.
design mirrors Nurse's ambitions for the research it will house, which he
describes as "somewhat unusual". He hopes that the research institute
will attract young scientists in their mid-30s who are eager to try new
ideas. They would devote a decade or so of their lives to UKCMRI before
moving on to other institutions.
institutions hang on to their best people. We will not do that," he
says. "We're going to put great emphasis on training scientists for
collaboration, Nurse says that the centre will avoid traditional academic
departments and instead have "interest groups" that are set up
by researchers themselves. Administrators will provide some support for
the groups, but Nurse hopes that the different teams will essentially drive
their own research programmes. "This allows it to be truly multidisciplinary,"
plan will not come cheap. The building is expected to cost more than £600
million (US$887 million) to construct, and another £100 million per
year to operate.
price tag comes at a difficult time, as several of the project's backers
are facing a grim economic future. The UK Medical Research Council (MRC),
which will pay roughly half the construction costs, is expected to have
its funding squeezed in the coming government budget, and University College
London, which will contribute £46 million to the building, has recently
made voluntary redundancies in preparation for tight times ahead. The project's
two other partners are the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK —
Britain's largest biomedical charities.
UK coalition government recently announced that it will pay its portion
of the project on a year-by-year basis instead of as a single lump sum,
but the MRC says that its pledge to the new facility remains firm.
Grant, UCL's president and provost, says that the university also remains
fully committed to the centre. "It is probably the highest priority
for us," he says.
adds, "This isn't the time to be burning the seed corn. If we get this
right, it will send a message to the rest of the world that the UK is serious
for the new facility will be submitted to local authorities in August and,
if approved, construction could begin early next year.