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UKCMRI Submits Updated Cost, Benefit Projections, Other Details to Officials

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation has offered additional details of its proposal to build a new facility — including updated cost and benefit projections — in the set of planning reports it filed with officials in London's Borough of Camden earlier this month.

According to the reports, posted recently on the borough's Camden Council website, the center's planned 10-level, 79,000-square-meter (850,000-square-foot) building would have a construction budget of £400 million ($621.9 million), accounting for most of the £540 million in total capital to be spent on UKCMRI. That differs from past estimates for the center ranging from £500 million to £600 million.

UKCMRI would generate at least £16 million in additional economic activity annually, according to an economic benefits report filed by the center.

The report offered two annual economic activity projections: the £16 million assumes a 20 percent rate of return on investment by its member institutions. If that rate climbs to 30 percent, the annual additional economic activity estimate would climb to £24 million.

Those numbers do not include the additional economic benefit of reduced incidents of diseases. Cancer costs the UK more than £18 billion annually, and heart disease another £8 billion, the UKCMRI reported.

"With its focus on major diseases, including cancer, heart disease, tuberculosis, influenza, and malaria, UKCMRI intends to make a significant contribution toward combating chronic diseases," the center stated. "While it is not possible to quantify precisely the potential economic savings from medical research at UKCMRI, they clearly have the potential to be significant."

UKCMRI is a research partnership whose members are Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the Wellcome Trust, University College London, and the Medical Research Council.

The center 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 operate on a £100 million annual budget.

UKCMRI repeated earlier estimates that its proposed facility would employ 1,500 staffers, including 1,250 scientists — but added in the planning reports that the building would be built for a maximum occupancy of 1,730 people.

Job estimates include 400 to 700 jobs that would be new positions not currently in any of the four institutions that comprise UKCMRI. Those new positions would account for another £8 million in indirect or multiplier-effect economic activity, based on the assumption that workers will spend 30 to 40 percent of their incomes near where they work, supporting nearby stores and other smaller businesses, the report stated.

Also to be based at the facility when completed would be about 400 postdoctoral fellows and approximately 250 PhD students, according to the report: "The majority of students will be registered at UCL, although some students currently working at MRC's [National Institute for Medical Research] have partnerships with other universities in London and across the UK."

Construction would create on average about another 600 jobs, rising to 1,000 jobs during peak periods during the anticipated 48 months during which the facility would be built, the report added: "Efforts will be made to source those contractors locally."

The report was among documents filed along with a formal application submitted to the council. The application 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. UKCMRI hopes to begin construction next year.

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. The set of reports submitted to the council included the strategy outline, but few additional new details on the research.

The reports, however, did detail the layout of space, including laboratories and major facilities, in the proposed building. The UKCMRI building would contain a total 35,603 square meters of lab space in four floors designed to encourage natural light, and a 5,056-square-meter floor would be mostly set aside for offices and a resource center for staffers, while a Biological Research Facility and physical plant facilities would share two basement levels, and their mezzanines, totaling 34,246 square meters.

Included in the report were numerous case studies of regions worldwide that have built life sciences research clusters, including a number of US cities, China, and Spain, where the economic benefits report cited a March 1 report in GenomeWeb Daily News on the opening of the Celgene Institute of Translational Research Europe (CITRE) in Seville.

UKCMRI hopes to overcome 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.

"We are asking that Camden Council build youth and community facilities on the 3.6 acre Brill Place site in Camden instead of a potentially dangerous level 3 biocontainment lab," the group Stop Camden Lab counterproposed on its website.

The center also said a UKCMRI facility made sense at the project site given it is within 1.5 miles of 37 biomedical related organizations, including 10 of the 24 higher education institutions based in London.

"UKCMRI is most likely to succeed in its aims in this location, and will produce less value to the UK if located elsewhere," the center concluded. "UKCMRI will reinforce London's position as a global scientific centre for the 21st century, it will enable biomedical research at the highest level, and it will ensure than Camden, London, and the UK are at the heart of innovation."

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