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April 14, 2011

London universities set to join St Pancras super lab

The UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation has sealed its bid to become London’s scientific powerhouse by adding Imperial College London and King’s College London to its list of partners.


The institutions have signed a memorandum of understanding that signals their intent to join University College London, previously the centre’s sole academic partner, alongside the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council. The UKCMRI, a charity, already has planning permission to build at a site behind the British Library in St Pancras, London.

Imperial and KCL would almost match UCL’s contribution, which stands at £46 million. Each will contribute £40m to the centre’s start-up costs, bringing investment in the centre to £730m.

In a statement, a UKCMRI spokesman said the additional funding would enable the centre to “do even more, more quickly than would otherwise have been the case” but stressed that the costs of construction had not changed.

The centre will take over the staff and budgets from the MRC’s National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill and CRUK’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Clare Hall sites, all of which are planned to close.

Paul Nurse, chief executive of UKCMRI and president of the Royal Society, said the addition of two more London Russell Group universities would offer the centre “even greater scale and breadth of knowledge”.

“It helps to enhance the opportunities for connections, creativity and discovery,” he said in a statement. “This institute will not only carry out the highest quality biomedical research, it will also act to support the entire research endeavour in the UK.”

In an announcement published on 13 April, the heads of both universities stressed the merits each would bring to the project. King’s principal Rick Trainor highlighted the university’s clinical expertise and psychological, psychiatric and social science research, while Imperial rector Keith O’Nions noted his university's experience in commercialising research and
applying physical sciences to biomedicine.

But the addition of new partners, and the potential for more staff to be based in the St Pancras lab, might not please everyone. Together the NIMR and CRUK sites that are to be close employ 1,232 staff. UCL has also said that it plans to transfer 100 staff to the UKCMRI. The centre will have no scope to expand to accommodate any additional staff beyond its 1,500 capacity.

Speaking at a House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee hearing in February, UCL provost Malcolm Grant said there would also be potential for UKCMRI-branded satellite organisations at UCL, Imperial College London and King’s College London.

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