• Blog
POSTED ON: 16 April 2021
Richard Hoey, iCR director of communications
It’s been a big start to the year for The London Cancer Hub. We’ve taken two major steps forward towards our vision of having world-leading scientists and innovative companies working side by side and in collaboration with each other to defeat cancer.

First, one of the flagship buildings on the site – the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery – opened fully for business in February as the final research teams moved in and started work.

We’re very proud of the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery here at The Institute of Cancer Research. It’s a world-class building which will host a pioneering drug discovery programme devoted to combatting the biggest challenge in cancer of all – its shape-shifting ability to evolve and become resistant to treatment.

Then, last month, the London Borough of Sutton and the ICR together announced that renovations would begin on an existing building right next to the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, to turn it into a new Innovation Gateway. The renovations are funded through the London Business Rates Pool’s Strategic Investment Pot, which supports strategic investment across the capital.

Innovation ecosystem

We see the Innovation Gateway as a vital step in kick-starting development of what is commonly referred to as an open innovation ecosystem. What is meant by this is an interactive network of scientists, clinicians and companies of various shapes and sizes, stimulating knowledge exchange and collaboration not only between academia and industry, but also between the different businesses on site.

The Innovation Gateway is going to provide a mixture of incubator and collaboration space – including seven category-2 labs, open plan office space and breakout rooms. It will be aimed especially at new or smaller life-science companies with an interest in cancer, such as spin-outs from ICR research and other start-ups, and will also welcome teams from more established biotech and med-tech companies, or from larger pharma. There is the opportunity for a larger company to occupy a large space on the top floor if they wish.

But what is most exciting about the Innovation Gateway is that it’s just  50 metres or so from the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, and companies will gain access to the café and other facilities and scientific services at its big sister next door. 

Better still, they will be in the perfect position to collaborate with the 300 or so ICR scientists in the neighbouring building, as well as hundreds more scientific and clinical researchers working across the wider site. We would imagine a proliferation of collaborations around early-stage cancer drug discovery, data science or the development of innovative new technologies, which could be the precursors to later-stage licensing deals and clinical trials.

Commercial collaboration

It should be stressed that the ICR is hardly a newcomer when it comes to commercial collaboration. We already work with more than 100 life-science companies, on both early-stage and later-stage research and development, and are the most successful higher education institution in the UK at generating invention income from our research. Working with industry is essential to allow the ICR to take new treatments and technologies to patients as quickly and effectively as possible.

What the new Innovation Gateway gives us – thanks to the vision and support of our partners at the London Borough of Sutton – is the opportunity to be physically located alongside some of our commercial partners. Despite a year of Covid-related upheaval and digital working, our researchers and partners are in no doubt that physical proximity continues to matter for creative collaboration and innovation.

That’s why it will be so important that occupiers of the Innovation Gateway will be able to use the café at the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery and facilities at other ICR buildings – to provide as much opportunity as possible for chance meetings and serendipitous exchange of ideas.

We don’t see this primarily as an income-generating exercise to plough industry money into cancer research – although commercial income does play an important role in helping the ICR to make discoveries for patients. Our vision is that by working together with the ICR and each other as part of a collaborative network, the companies that come on site will play a vital role in driving forward our mission – to make the discoveries that defeat cancer. The involvement of companies will also be critical at a later stage in research, in taking advances and funding the preclinical development and clinical trials that can make them available for patients.

That’s why we see the Innovation Gateway as just the start. Ultimately it will be just one small part of the much larger, longer-term ambitions we have for The London Cancer Hub. The wider vision includes the development of a flagship Knowledge Centre to provide commercial collaboration and innovation space within the same building as space for academic researchers and technology transfer specialists. Eventually, our ambitions will translate into up to 100,000 square metres of commercial development, 13,000 new jobs and £1.2bn a year generated for the UK economy – and most importantly, into new treatments for people with cancer.

With the Innovation Gateway, it’s a case of starting relatively small but thinking really big. For all the challenges posed for cancer research by Covid-19, the year has got off to an exciting start, with the promise of much more to come.
If you are interested in hearing more about the Innovation Gateway, and potentially taking space within it, please contact Andy Carr at [email protected].
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