Henry French, Head of Specialist Marketing and Communication at The Institute of Cancer Research, discusses Professor Paul Workman's recent visit to life-science industry conference, Bio Japan.
The UK life-science industry is thriving, particularly in London and the south east of England.
UK academics, in collaboration with industry partners, are playing a leading role in driving record investment in life sciences, including in oncology. That record level of investment is quite something, especially when set against general UK economic uncertainty because of Brexit.
And new developments like The London Cancer Hub – a life-science district in Sutton, south London – represent potential for even greater success.
These were some of the arguments presented by Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, on a recent visit to Japan as part of a UK delegation to BioJapan, one of Asia’s biggest life-science industry conferences.
As a guest of the Japanese BioIndustry Association and MedCity, which supports and promotes life-science businesses from the UK’s ‘golden triangle’, Professor Workman met representatives of life-science organisations from across Japan and, to close out the visit, delivered the conference keynote lecture in Yokohama.
During the visit, Professor Workman represented the ICR’s positive vision for UK life sciences, and laid out its future role in continuing to act as a leader in the UK in driving innovation and investment in the life sciences.
He also represented The London Cancer Hub, a £1bn regeneration project and a leading example of an emerging trend in the UK for life-science workers from across different sectors to locate in ‘urban innovation’ districts. The urban innovation concept is already well established in the US, and is set to unlock further growth in the life-sciences globally.
The ICR is already one of the world’s leading academic institutions in measures of collaboration with industry, working with more than 100 companies. It is among the top 10 universities worldwide for the proportion of papers published with industry, and first globally for the proportion of academic papers cited in patent applications.
The ICR is also the world’s leading centre for drug discovery in oncology, having discovered 20 drug candidates since 2005, 10 of which have moved into clinical trials (and nine of these in the UK).
There will be further opportunities for UK and international life-science businesses to make relationships with the ICR as part of The London Cancer Hub, as Professor Workman told delegates at BioJapan.
Urban innovation district
The London Cancer Hub will accelerate the development of new treatments for cancer patients and aims to become one of the UK’s leading urban innovation districts – where a mix of life-science academics, clinicians, businesses, knowledge exchange professionals and support workers will come together in a location that takes advantage of existing local expertise and infrastructure.
‘Urban innovation districts’ contrast with ‘science parks’, which involve building stand-alone developments that are not necessarily integrated into surrounding infrastructure or culture. A crucial benefit of urban innovation districts is the ability to rapidly transfer knowledge between partners.
In the UK, local and national government is supporting and investing in this new model of public-private partnership.
As Professor Workman demonstrated to delegates at BioJapan, that is certainly the case for The London Cancer Hub, where leading partner The London Borough of Sutton has made major investments in the site, senior political figures including current Prime Minister Boris Johnson and London Mayor Sadiq Khan have made high-profile visits, and local and regional policy makers are working to improve transport links.
Image: Boris Johnson (as Mayor of London), current London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Vince Cable (as leader of the Liberal Democrats) have all visited The London Cancer Hub.
Opportunities to collaborate with ICR researchers at The London Cancer Hub cover a wide range of disciplines in oncology. Possible current areas for collaboration with ICR researchers – some of which were highlighted by Professor Workman in Japan – include drug discovery, first-in-man clinical trials, immuno-oncology, antibody-based therapeutics, Big Data and AI, biomarkers, preclinical tools for testing novel agents, radiation combinations, microscopy, genomic sequencing, drug resistance mechanisms, imaging and medical physics.
At The London Cancer Hub, there will be new opportunities for partners at the Knowledge Centre, an epicentre for interactions between academia and industry that will bring together ICR researchers, technology translation specialists and companies.
The Knowledge Centre will form one of the earlier developments on The London Cancer Hub site along with the ICR’s nearly complete £75m Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust’s £70m Oak Cancer Centre, a new Maggie’s Cancer Centre and a new Harris Federation secondary school.
There is now also the possibility of a major acute hospital for Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust being built at The London Cancer Hub, after the Government gave the green light for a new hospital on one of three existing sites, with Sutton currently the highest scoring.
UK strength in life sciences
As Professor Workman highlighted in Yokohama, The London Cancer Hub is one of several urban innovation districts that will further strengthen the UK’s life-science industry, and offer new opportunities for investment.
And as Dr Angela Kukula, the ICR’s Director of Enterprise, also blogged recently, life-science clusters like The London Cancer Hub will take advantage of some of the factors that make the UK unique – including a high concentration of world-leading university research, national and local government support for the life sciences, our National Health Service, and a powerful charity sector that helps fund early-stage research that leads on to the discovery of new treatments for disease.
The London Cancer Hub is an exemplar of an innovation district that is building on academic excellence, strong links with industry and expertise in knowledge exchange – and will help strengthen the UK’s leading role in global life sciences, at the same time as speeding the development of new treatments for people with cancer.