Plans have been unveiled for a £300 million health science campus that aims to deliver a long-term health boost to the East End and attract global investment to the UK after Brexit.
Queen Mary, University of London and Barts Health NHS Trust will build a life sciences institute alongside the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel.
Scientists and doctors will work with patients to develop new treatments, focusing on diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and trauma, drawing on the Royal London’s status as a major trauma centre.
The aim is to deliver new treatments and therapies more quickly to the 2.5 million East Enders who rely on Barts’ five hospitals, while using the area’s genetic diversity as a “test bed” for medical breakthroughs of potential global significance.
The institute will be built on land left derelict following the rebuilding of the Royal London, which was completed in 2012. A masterplan has been submitted to Tower Hamlets council and industry backers are being sought.
The institute will expand work already being done by the university and would open in stages over the next five to 10 years, eventually supporting up to 11,500 jobs. The first 10 fellowships will be offered later this year.
Professor Rakesh Uppal, director of life sciences at Barts Health, said: “It’s going to fundamentally change how we interact with our patients, and help patients to look after themselves.”
Research will be targeted on genetic health – understanding why individuals get sick and allowing tailored medicines to be created – and artificial intelligence, which involves using devices to monitor a person’s health and send alerts.
It would offer a new kind of clinical trial – adapting treatments depending on how the patient was reacting. “What companies are looking for are places where they can come in and interact with patients and clinicians, so they don’t develop new technologies which don’t serve a purpose,” Professor Uppal said.
“Any of the trials we do in this area, we can apply globally. We have got the gene pool of the world on our doorstep.”
The focus would be different to the Francis Crick Institute, which opened in King’s Cross last year and is focused on “early discovery science”.
Professor Simon Gaskell, principal of QMUL, said: “The Crick is doing wonderful work in terms of basic discovery. What we do at Whitechapel will have a much more immediate effect on clinical treatment than the work being done at the Crick.
“The really crucial bit of this is that the local population has quite severe health needs in an underprivileged part of town. There are going to be scientific developments which have both national and international significance.”
He said the institute would have an “absolutely critical” role post-Brexit in helping to “lock-in” global companies to the UK.
“Very senior figures in national government recognise the significance of this,” Professor Gaskell said. “These are companies that can go anywhere they like in the world. They go where they find the best return, not just the financial return but the intellectual return.”
Dr Charlie Davie, managing director of UCL Partners, which champions pioneering healthcare in north east London, said the research focus on patient involvement was a “breath of fresh air”.
He said: “What we are trying to do is discover the truly transformational or disruptive innovations that are going to change healthcare for the better – issues like living with long-term conditions, healthy ageing and how to make healthcare cost effective.”
- An edited version of this article appeared in yesterday’s Evening Standard.