The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson launched the new initiative this week, hoping the London-Oxford-Cambridge life sciences sector can become “a world beating power-cluster”, and demonstrating an innovative new body scanner in the process.
Through MedCity, a new body modelled on the Tech City Investment Organisation, Boris Johnson hopes the life sciences sector in the South East will come to match the position of financial services in the national economy.
The new organisation is tasked with attracting life sciences corporations to the “golden triangle” formed by the three UK cities, facilitating collaboration between them and the UK academic research base, and reinforcing specialist infrastructure so that the region becomes “one of the premier, interconnected clusters for life science research, development, manufacturing and commercialisation”.
The Mayor announced at the launch, in West London at Imperial College’s White City facility, that £2.92m is being invested in the project by England’s university funding body – the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). This is on top of £1.2m funding confirmed by the Mayor of London’s office.
David Sweeney, Director of Research, Innovation and Skills at HEFCE, said: “In an increasingly globalised world, universities play a crucial part both as anchors of the economy in their cities and regions, and as sources of international comparative advantage. This project responds to Sir Andrew Witty’s conclusions on the critical role that universities could play in smart specialisation in his review.”
MedCity has been established by the Mayor of London and King’s Health Partners, Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre and UCLPartners with co-operation from the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford. The organisation is supported by an advisory board that includes leading life sciences figures in the UK such as Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and CEO of The Francis Crick Institute, and Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, alongside successful entrepreneurs including Dr Herman Hauser and Dr Simon Kerry as well as leading political, medical, charitable and business institutions.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “Together with Oxford and Cambridge we form a ‘golden triangle’ of scientific innovation and we need to channel that intellectual pre-eminence into a positive impact on our economy. MedCity will span everything from research to clinical trials to manufacturing, across biotech, med tech and health tech. I am in no doubt that having the whole ‘chain’ from small spin-offs to massive companies doing their research, clinical development and manufacturing here in London and the south east can be as important to our economy as the financial services sector is today.”
Seventy-one Nobel Prize Laureates have links with London universities, 48 of them scientists. Oxford University is home to 51 Nobel Prize Laureates, 32 of who are scientists while 90 affiliates of Cambridge University have been awarded the prize, 76 of which are scientists. The region is also home to six of the world’s best universities. Over the last 10 years employment in life sciences has increased by 21 per cent – compared to only 12 per cent on average for all employment types.
The region has more than 705,900 people employed in the life sciences sector. Over the last five years, say the GLA, London attracted 35 new foreign investment projects in the life sciences, representing more than £330m in new investment and over 1,300 new jobs. The greater South East including London attracted 76 new foreign direct investment projects, worth over £660m and creating 3,300 jobs.
Next year the £500m Francis Crick Institute will open at Kings Cross – aiming to become one of Europe’s major centres for biological research and innovation. The centre will focus on discovering the basic biology behind a wide range of diseases including cancer, heart disease, stroke, infections and neurodegenerative diseases. Its ambition is to achieve improvements in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and to generate new economic opportunities for the UK. Alongside the Crick is Oxford’s proposed £21m bio escalator and Cambridge’s new £212m MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology.
Kit Malthouse, Deputy Mayor for Business and Enterprise and the originator of the project said: “Between the three cities that make up this golden triangle we have the most powerful scientific discovery engine in the world. Now we have to take these discoveries, inject the power of our financial sector, and turn them into world beating companies and jobs.”
The strengths are located in many institutions and organisations across the three cities. MedCity hopes to consolidate these strengths, give them a coherent collective identity and showcase the expertise of the South East cluster as the global landing place for international businesses and investors.
Eliot Forster, Chairman of MedCity, said: “MedCity is a unique enterprise that brings together our outstanding life sciences sector in London and the Greater South East. It will stimulate collaboration across the sector and through this drive economic growth. This is a singular opportunity for this sector to find its rightful place in the world market; to create new companies, new therapies, new investments and to deliver economic and patient benefits”.
The Mayor launched MedCity on Imperial College London’s Hammersmith campus, where, the Mayor visited Imanova, a world-leading centre for imaging sciences whose cutting edge PET scanning research provides a specialist resource to the UK research field. Imanova was formed in 2011 in an innovative alliance between the Medical Research Council, Imperial College London, King’s College London and University College London. It is already working with a number of the world’s leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
At Imanova, the Mayor demonstrated the use of a novel device based on the Microsoft Kinect camera, which tracked his movements generating a 3D image of the Mayor’s head and body. This uses Imanova-developed software to track the movements of patients during their PET scan. This is particularly useful for patients who may find it difficult to keep still and ensures an accurate, unblurred brain scan is obtained. Luckily for Imanova, the Mayor was having a good hair day.