MedCity will be ‘concierge’ for life sciences
MedCity, the new entity seeking to capitalise on the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of medical and life sciences R&D organisations between London, Oxford and Cambridge, has been officially launched.
The idea is to bring together parties that can help with the discovery and commercialisation of new drugs to tackle diseases such as dementia, diabetes and cancer, whilst also attracting major life science corporations to locate to the three cities and assist small companies to spin out of academia.
It will receive more than £4 million in funding — £2.9 million from the Higher Education Funding Council and £1.2 million from City Hall — to help promote it across the globe.
Eliot Forster, the newly-appointed chairman of MedCity Limited, said that part of MedCity’s role will be to provide a ‘concierge’ service, offering a channel through which investors can be connected to life sciences companies.
He believes foreign investors currently have trouble finding who they should connect with in the UK’s life sciences landscape. “Imagine if you’ve flown in from Boston, Denver or San Francisco and are trying to find your way around,” he said. “It’s not impossible – but it’s not easy either.”
MedCity would help attract financial support into London, Oxford and Cambridge, he went on. “We have support from the financial community and we need to build on it. Our ambition is to grow new business, create new jobs, grow the economy and bring new therapies to patients,” he said.
Speaking at the official launch of the venture at Imperial College London’s campus in west London, Forster, who has 20 years of experience in biotech and pharma companies, said the capital itself provided a ‘living lab’ with eight million patients. “It is a fantastic place to conduct clinical trials,” he insisted.
This was a point that deputy London mayor Kit Malthouse, who drove the London mayor’s office’s contribution to the MedCity project, also highlighted. “Every genome type is present,” he said. “This is an incredible research base.”
Malthouse said MedCity, partly funded by the mayor’s office, will have physical buildings and staff and fulfils four key functions:
• To build a life sciences cluster, attracting those who need to be involved from round the world ‘to create credibility’
• To ‘stimulate collaboration’ between academic institutions and business
• To promote MedCity’s ambitions and services, attracting direct foreign investment
• To act as a lobbyist for life sciences, presenting the academic and business case to governments about issues such as patent life, investment and EU regulation.
“There is an incredible amount of academic ambition,” Malthouse said. “The challenge for us is how to take that and turn it into jobs.”
Mayor of London Boris Johnson said the city could now ‘reclaim the crown’ it held in the seventeenth century of being “the scientific capital of the world”.
The city is attractive for investors in life sciences because, he said, it contains “78 Nobel Prize winners and all the tax credits you could possibly want” including “an R&D tax break of 225% for SMEs”.
There was also “an extraordinary constellation of institutions” in London, he added.
MedCity will build on this, with a new district proposed around Euston Road in north-east London, near the University College Hospital and the Wellcome Trust.
Building for the future
The Francis Crick Institute – an interdisciplinary medical research centre designed to look for new ways to prevent and treat illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and stroke, as well as infections and neurodegenerative diseases and due to open next year in St Pancras – is at the heart of the new plans.
The Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust, University College London, Imperial College London and King’s College London are to invest a total of £650 million in the Institute.
Around 700,000 people work in life sciences, and many advances had been made, but Johnson said: “We haven’t been as successful as some other cities in converting these breakthroughs into cash.”
MedCity is designed to address this. ‘I’m full of confidence,’ he concluded. “We’re standing on the verge of a new industrial revolution. We can make London the life sciences capital of Europe, if not the world.”
The geographical triangle MedCity is hoping to exploit contains five of the UK’s six Academic Health Science Centres (Kings, Imperial, UCLP, Oxford and Cambridge).
It is also home to the Cell Therapy Catapult, leading research hospitals such as Moorfields eye hospital – and London has seven of the UK’s 11 Biotechnology Resource Centres.
Earlier in the day, Johnson had visited Imanova, a centre for imaging sciences whose cutting-edge PET scanning research provides a specialist resource to the UK research field.
Formed in 2011 as an alliance between the Medical Research Council, Imperial College London, King’s College London and University College London, it works with a number of pharma and biotech 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 his head.
This uses Imanova-developed software to track the movements of patients during their PET scan – and is useful for patients who may find it difficult to keep still because it ensures an accurate, un-blurred brain scan is obtained.
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