Andy Carr, Business Development Manager at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, introduces the new Innovation Gateway at The London Cancer Hub in Sutton, south London, to DDW’s Megan Thomas.
MT: I understand the establishment of the Innovation Gateway is underway. What is the progress and when is it due to open?
AC: It’s progressing very well! The Innovation Gateway is being created through the renovation of an existing building on the site of The London Cancer Hub, and these renovation works began in March. The works are due to finish over the summer and we are hoping to have the first companies on site collaborating with our scientists later this year.
MT: What inspired the development of this centre, and what is it adding to The London Cancer Hub?
AC: The Innovation Gateway is really important in realising the vision for The London Cancer Hub overall. The site is already home to two world-leading cancer organisations in The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden, but we want companies to join us here to create an open innovation ecosystem where we are all interacting with each other, with a free flow of ideas across sectors and between companies of different specialisms and sizes.
The Innovation Gateway represents the first opportunity for companies to set up a base on site and collaborate with our scientists, and so will be crucial in establishing this ecosystem and ultimately a vital step towards realising our aim to find new treatments and technologies that will help cancer patients. In time, there will be larger spaces available too, which will give companies already here the opportunity to grow.
MT: What will the Innovation Gateway mean for biotech and cancer research at large?
AC: Our vision for The London Cancer Hub is to create the world’s leading district for cancer research, treatment and commercial enterprise. For biotech, that means the chance to embed in a vibrant research community supported by state-of-the-art facilities and to develop vital new treatments and technologies in oncology.
There are potential opportunities to collaborate in a wide range of research areas in oncology including drug discovery, drug development including first-in-human clinical trials, immuno-oncology, Big Data and AI, biomarkers, preclinical tools for testing novel agents, radiation combinations, microscopy, imaging and the development of medical devices and software.
For cancer research in the broader sense, it is about creating a community focused on innovation that is even greater than the sum of its parts and can create a new generation of cancer treatments.
MT: What will it mean for researchers and companies specifically?
AC: As well as providing a home for companies that gives them the lab, office and other space they need, the Innovation Gateway represents a unique opportunity for biotech companies – as well as staff from medtech and bigger pharma companies – to collaborate with researchers at the ICR in the discovery and development of new cancer treatments and technologies.
The ICR is already one of the world’s leading academic institutions in several measures of working in partnership with industry, including in the discovery and development of new cancer drugs and technologies that go on to be used routinely in treatment. But the Innovation Gateway offers companies the opportunity to work even more closely with our scientists.
MT: Why is collaboration and mixed laboratories beneficial for researchers?
AC: Collaboration is the only way to make the game-changing discoveries that will make the biggest impact over the coming decade. We believe that the biggest advances – whether that is in steering cancer evolution and preventing drug resistance, exploiting the degron in drug discovery, targeting the stroma, or in medtech fields like physics – will come from cross-disciplinary team science.
Notwithstanding this, clearly individual teams will still need to have privacy and control over their data. In relation to the Innovation Gateway specifically, there will be a mix of self-contained lab and office space and mixed lab and innovation space.
MT: What facilities will it contain?
AC: The current plan includes up to seven category-2 laboratories, and additional shared labs offering extraction hoods for more sophisticated chemistry experiments. There will be offices available for individual companies and a large hot-desking area as well as breakout meeting rooms and kitchen facilities.
Other benefits include collaboration with our scientists and potentially, access to some of our state-of-the-art scientific facilities as well as the cafe at our new £80 million Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, and wider ICR catering facilities.
MT: Does anything of this nature exist currently?
AC: There are some brilliant incubator spaces around the UK including in Central London. The things that make the Innovation Gateway unique are its focus on oncology and the proximity to our world-leading cancer scientists and clinicians.
There are also benefits that come from the location – Sutton is in south London, still close enough to Central London but easily accessible from south of the capital, and close to Gatwick airport. The London Cancer Hub is located in a neighbourhood with tree-lined streets and open spaces.
MT: Have the UK’s Covid-19 lockdowns negatively impacted or delayed progress in any way?
AC: We’ve been open about the impact that the pandemic has had on our work at the ICR – we’ve estimated that it’s caused around six months of delay to our science. We worked hard to reopen our labs as quickly as possible but have still had to work under strict safety regulations, which have limited the numbers who could come in. Our researchers have been working unsociable hours including overnight as we try to catch up.
As far as the Innovation Gateway goes though, our partners at the London Borough of Sutton have been doing a brilliant job of keeping everything on track. The building work hasn’t been delayed substantially and our contractors are already working on the refurbishment, in line with the current rules.
MT: How will the addition of the Innovation Gateway impact The London Cancer Hub?
AC: It’s the first time we’ve had a space for life sciences companies to establish a presence here at The London Cancer Hub. Ultimately, we hope to really expand the space available through the Knowledge Centre, which will come later in the project, but this is the first opportunity to make companies part of the ecosystem here and so it’s very exciting.
Andy Carr is a Business Development Manager in the Business and Innovation Office at The Institute of Cancer Research, London. He develops relationships between the ICR and its researchers and a range of different companies to commercialise academic discoveries, inventions and innovations, and accelerate their passage to patients.