At any given time during the Olympics, people from all over the world are passing through London’s King’s Cross St Pancras station, all heading for the Javelin train to take them to the Olympic Park in Stratford in just seven minutes.
Most of them won’t realise that just round the corner from King’s Cross, we’re helping to create a research institute of Olympian standing – the Francis Crick Institute.
London has been preparing for the Olympics for seven years – we’ve seen regeneration of east London, upgrades on the tube, and anticipation build among Londoners and the rest of the world.
Similarly, The Francis Crick Institute will be seven years in the making when it opens in 2015, and we can’t wait.
The Francis Crick Institute has been described as “the most significant development in British biomedical science for a generation”. It will arguably be the most important medical research institute anywhere in the world, carrying out research to help cure the most common and deadly diseases – including cancer. We’re creating the institute with the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and three London universities – Imperial, King’s and UCL.
We’ve pledged £160 million towards the cost of the institute. This is one of our boldest ever commitments, and we are the only partner looking to raise funds for the building philanthropically.
But we’re confident that the support of the public will help us to fulfil this pledge. Just last month, we were overjoyed by the generosity of an anonymous donor, who gave us a staggering £10 million towards our Create The Change campaign for the Francis Crick Institute. This is the largest one-off donation we have ever received.
Building to foster excellence
To make sure that the world’s athletes have the best environments to perform at the highest level, the London Olympics needed a mammoth construction project.
The Francis Crick Institute also involves a huge construction project, but the building will house scientific – rather than sporting – excellence.
This is what the building site looks like now:
And this is what it’ll look like when it’s finished:
(Coincidentally, the company building the Institute – Laing O’Rourke – was also involved in constructing the Olympic Park in Stratford):
Around 400,000 tonnes of soil had to be cleared to make way for the Crick’s basement (as you can see in this video). That’s a fifth of the amount cleared for the Olympic Park and enough soil to fill the Royal Albert Hall four times, or 60 Olympic swimming pools.
When it opens in 2015, The Francis Crick Institute will be a truly unique building. That’s thanks to the architects approaching the project in a completely different way to any other science building they’ve worked on before.
When you think of a scientist, you may think of Dr Emmett Brown from Back to the Future-type character – a man in a white coat who locks himself away in his lab until he’s cracked a code or made an amazing discovery.
The Francis Crick Institute doesn’t want any Doc Browns in their building. They want scientists who collaborate. And that’s reflected in the design of the building.
From the outset, the architects designed space for collaboration into the building, to encourage scientists from different disciplines to meet, catalysing ideas for new ways to tackle disease. Normally, these sorts of spaces aren’t considered until around a year before the building opens.
The new institute is named after Francis Crick, the British scientist who helped discover the structure of DNA – one of the most important scientific milestones of all time (which fired the starting gun for the genomics revolution). For this, he was awarded a Nobel Prize, which is the scientific equivalent of an Olympic gold medal.
The Institute’s Director is another Nobel Laureate, Sir Paul Nurse, a former Cancer Research UK scientist. With this history, expectations are high.
As we watch the Olympics this summer, hoping to see athletes like Usain Bolt and Bradley Wiggins push the limits of human possibility in their quest for gold medals, we’ll be watching scientists at the Francis Crick Institute over the years push the boundaries of human knowledge (and we’ll be hoping for another Nobel Prize or two!).
Economists have suggested that the Olympics will boost the UK economy by £16.5bn – through regeneration, tourism and new jobs to name a few.
The Francis Crick Institute will also be crucial to boosting the economy. David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, recently said on this blog that life sciences are at “the heart of this Government’s plans for sustainable economic recovery” and set out his ambitious vision of the UK as the global hub for life sciences. The Francis Crick Institute will undoubtedly be the epicentre of this hub.
And Sir Paul Nurse has said he wants the Institute to be “a cultural and economic hot house of scientific ideas and applications, [making] exciting discoveries, improving our health and driving our economy.”
For this to happen, we will, of course, need help – and investment – from pharmaceutical companies. Our researchers will constantly be making important discoveries, which need to be translated into new treatments. But because of the cost of this translation, we often need pharmaceutical companies to work with us and take our research to the next stage.
This sort of investment in further research will be a huge boost to the economy, and will show other companies that the UK is a good place to do science.
A legacy of health
As its tag line states, London 2012 is hoping to ‘Inspire a Generation’ by leaving a legacy of sporty young people inspired by the best in the world. The Francis Crick Institute also aims to inspire.
There will be a full programme of events to make sure schools across the UK have the chance to get involved in science and to encourage those children to become the next generation of groundbreakers and Nobel Prize winners.
And by building what is sure to become one of the leading biomedical research institutes of the world, we hope to leave our own legacy – a legacy of improved health for generations to come.
So although we’ll be sad to see the Olympics finish, we’ll console ourselves in the knowledge that we have another huge event to look forward to in just a few years – the opening of the Francis Crick Institute.