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UKCMRI Submits Plans for Facility in London's Camden Borough

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation has applied to officials in London's Borough of Camden for approvals to build a new building it hopes to open in 2015.

The application, submitted Wednesday and announced yesterday, is expected to be heard before the end of the year by members of the Camden Council's Development Control Committee, following a formal consultation by the council. If approved, construction will begin next year, the center said in a statement.

"UKCMRI is perfectly positioned to bring together a wealth of expertise to tackle some of the biggest challenges in beating cancers, heart disease, stroke, flu and neuro-degenerative diseases," the UKCMRI Chair Sir David Cooksey said in the statement. "This is an unprecedented opportunity for UK science."

UKCMRI is a £600 million ($926 million) research partnership whose members are Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the Wellcome Trust, University College London, and the Medical Research Council. According to a scientific vision and research strategy outline released in June, UKCMRI will maintain "a strong focus" on cancer, heart disease, and stroke, as well as disorders of the immune system and later-life diseases of the nervous system.

In July, UKCMRI appointed the chair of its Scientific Planning Committee, Sir Paul Nurse, to be its inaugural director and chief executive, effective Jan. 1, 2011. Nurse is a Nobel laureate and the president of New York's Rockefeller University since 2003.

UKCMRI seeks to build its facility on 3.6 acres of land at Brill Place, north of the British Library, in the St. Pancras and Somers Town area of north London. If approved, construction will begin next year with completion in 2015. The center is projected to employ 1,500 staffers, including 1,250 scientists, and operate on a £100 million annual budget.

Until now, the center's proposal has met with opposition from many residents living near the site, who have cited the center's plans to operate a high category 3 lab; test on smaller animals; and supplant affordable housing once envisioned for the site. Some officials have also expressed concerns about the design and density of the 79,000-square-metre (850,000-square-foot) facility.

UKCMRI said its application followed more than two years of consultation with scientists, business leaders, politicians, and planners. Local residents and community groups commented on the proposals at more than 70 events held by the team focused on developing the center. More than 500 people attended those events, according to UKCMRI.

UKCMRI said it responded to the consultations and public comment in part by locating about one third of the building below street level, reducing the building's overall height. The main public entrance has been lowered, a change the center said was made to improve access.

Also more accessible now, according to UKCMRI, are the building's teaching laboratory, conference facility, and exhibition space. Some scientific functions were moved to make ground-floor activities more visible.

And to enhance openness, a north-south atrium has been introduced, while the building has been set back to give views from St. Pancras International to the local Purchese Street Open Space, and to encourage pedestrians to walk from St. Pancras to Euston. The roof has been changed to a shell-like curved form, with the goal of reducing the effect on local views.

A community facility also has been included in the building, while a new east-west route has been developed between UKCMRI and the British Library.

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