London's life science cluster

A major new London project is exploiting the opportunities presented by life-science clusters to ensure clinical and commercial success


  • Peter Ward

22 March 2020

King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust are developing their campuses near Westminster Bridge and London Bridge as clusters of life-science expertise. The two institutions, working with a range of other partners, have a 25-year strategy to expand their central London estates into internationally significant centres for healthcare and life-science research and education, attracting talent, expertise and investment from across the world. At the heart of the programme are ambitious campus masterplans, a new standard for adaptable buildings, and a proven model for completing them.

The programme will make a major contribution to the UK's Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, keeping London at the forefront of global healthcare and life-science innovation. By developing centres that complement other life-science hubs in the capital rather than competing with them, it will help define the city's life-science proposition in a growing market, allowing it to compete with other international centres.

It will also improve the health and well-being of millions of patients and improve the environment for staff; a 2018 economic impact assessment by PwC also indicates that the programme will generate more than £35bn in economic value and create more than 50,000 full-time jobs by 2050.

The partners propose two clusters:
  • a biomedical cluster at the London Bridge campus, including Guy's Hospital, focusing on elective care, advanced therapies, cellular medicine, cancer and biomedical science; this will build on the success of the Guy's Cancer Centre and Guy's Tower as hubs for research into advanced therapies
  • a medical technology, or medtech, cluster at the Westminster Bridge campus, including St Thomas' Hospital, building on the trust's strengths in emergency care, diagnostic imaging, cardiovascular care and paediatrics, and the university's cardiovascular, imaging and healthcare engineering research.
Along with King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, the two institutions are also founding members of King's Health Partners (KHP) – one of only six academic health-science centres accredited by the Department of Health in the UK.

KHP has plans to develop a third cluster at Denmark Hill, focusing on translating research into practice, in particular integrating psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience and supporting major research programmes in dementia, epilepsy, stroke, neurosurgery and transplantation.

Clustering life-science expertise has been shown to improve the study and practice of healthcare, resulting in better care for patients and a better environment for staff. They do this by bringing together hospitals, research institutions and industry in a collaborative environment, where the best academic and commercial researchers work closely with clinicians and entrepreneurs to advance healthcare.

Outside clusters, ideas typically take 17 years to become commercial applications; within them, barriers to collaboration are removed, significantly reducing this time. Diverse groups from across the public and private sectors, including medics, engineers, physicists, chemists and computer scientists can share insights and form integrated teams to tackle challenges identified by frontline clinicians. That helps them bring new treatments and technologies to market faster, in a more joined-up way.


Professor Sir Robert Lechler is vice-principal, health, for King's College London and executive director of KHP, and sees strong potential in this model: 'KHP has a long-standing strategy of developing clinical–academic hubs at our sites, built on a platform of academic science and clinical service at each campus. The medtech, biomedical and translational biomedicine clusters will enable internationally significant academic and industrial partnerships, providing significant scientific and economic growth in this sector for London. This environment will in turn draw investment into buildings, landscape and culture that then regenerates neighbourhoods and attracts new talent and investment, in a virtuous circle of growth.'

The partners have existing contracts and relationships with industrial partners leading the development of commercial medical and biomedical technology, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, which could improve early diagnosis and treatment. As those partnerships grow, there will be new opportunities with these and other commercial firms, ranging from small and medium-sized enterprises to larger industrial partners.

There are strong potential benefits in co-location for commercial partners too. They include:
  • improved access to innovators in the financial, technological, legal and healthcare sectors
  • platform capabilities, including imaging, bioinformatics and digital support
  • access to researchers and labs to enable informal sharing of knowledge and research insights
  • collaborative discovery programmes in areas of mutual interest access to research partnerships
  • rapid decision-making
  • shared facilities and governance for joint projects.
As the largest healthcare educator in Europe, King's also has a significant pipeline of talent, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Dr Ian Abbs is the trust's chief medical officer and interim CEO, and recognises the role partnerships will play in improving care for patients: 'The trust's strategy is built around our patients, our people and our partnerships. All three of these support the objective of accelerating the development and introduction of the world-leading advanced therapies and medical technology that will be central to our future success in providing sustainable, high-quality care for our patients.'

Adaptable buildings, changing needs

The partners must ensure that the buildings supporting this plan can adapt well to the changing needs of healthcare and life-science research. Over the past year, they have developed a standard specification using adaptable base buildings that can then be fitted out to meet their needs, and refitted as those needs change.

They have categorised high-, medium- and low-intensity uses – for example in relation to floor loadings, ventilation and electrical demand – and written a policy governing their fit-out that will specify how they can be adapted quickly and cheaply to changing uses. Typically, the buildings will be zoned, with lower floors likely to be dedicated to highly specialist clinical and research space – such as operating theatres, critical care and high-containment laboratories – with higher floors being used interchangeably for commercial, research and clinical uses.

In this way, these adaptable base buildings will be futureproofed against changes in treatment and technology and the evolution of new fields of research. They will also remain fit for purpose for longer, and cost less to adapt.

The trust or university works with commercial developers through a model that is well established in their own sector, and base buildings will be constructed to a shell and core specification that includes the basic structure and the installation of heating, lighting, water and other essential services. The partners will then lease and control the space they need and fit it out as required, usually every 10 to 15 years. Any space they don’t need will be let to healthcare, scientific and commercial partners, subsidising the cost of any space used by the partners.

Alongside the Adaptable Estate Standard referred to above, the partners will adopt new ways of working to harness the benefits of digital technology, better integrating the healthcare system and providing services as close to home as possible. They will involve patients, students and staff at every stage, so that their views and requirements can be reflected in service design.

'Clustering life-science expertise has been shown to improve the study and practice of healthcare'


This programme represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop a significant new life-science district for London. It will transform care for our patients and dramatically improve the environment for NHS and university staff – as well as helping London to live up to its potential as an international centre for healthcare and life-science research. But perhaps most importantly, it will offer a platform from which to teach the next generation of clinicians, scientists and entrepreneurs and help them build careers around healthcare innovation.

Related competencies include: Asset management

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