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Vince Cable spoke of the vital role a new London “science cathedral” will play in the search for a cure for cancer, as he recalled how the disease claimed the life of his first wife.

The Business Secretary hailed the £650m Francis Crick Institute, which will open later this year at King’s Cross, as “magnificent” as he was given a preview tour by its chief executive Sir Paul Nurse.

The project is a partnership between three research institutions – the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust – and three London universities: UCL, Imperial College and King’s College.

The hope is that breakthroughs in the treatment of cancer and brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s will follow from putting the smartest minds in one location to enable them to share ideas.

Vince Cable visiting the Francis Crick Institute in King's Cross

Vince Cable visiting the Francis Crick Institute in King’s Cross

Mr Cable’s first wife Olympia died from cancer in 2001. “Cancer research is one of the key building blocks [of the Crick],” he said. “We have done some outstanding work in the UK and I’m personally interested in it, partly for rather sad family reasons.

“My wife had it, and I did a lot of work as an MP on cancer screening and cancer research before I became a Minister. It’s important that we keep ahead of the science.”

Speaking to the Standard, Mr Cable added: “This is magnificent and massive and is on a different scale to what I normally see – a cathedral of science, as Sir Paul Nurse described it.

“It’s a great achievement on several levels. This is Britain establishing a footprint as a world leader in biomedical science and, as we are beginning to see with Crossrail, Britain is proving very good at project delivery.

“After five years it’s just a few days behind [schedule]. It’s within budget. It’s the kind of thing a generation ago we would have regarded as miraculous, but it’s happened.”