Construction of the Rosalind Franklin Institute Hub

Lead Research Organisation: STFC - Laboratories
Department Name: Head Office


The Life Sciences sector forms a key part of the UK economy: it employs over 220,000 people, contributes significantly to GDP and UK balance of trade, and is crucial for developing leading-edge treatments for patients. It is underpinned by the UK's world-leading research base in the health and life sciences. Many key research breakthroughs are, in turn, enabled by advances in engineering and physical sciences (EPS) research - which provide ever more sophisticated instrumentation and methods to support the study of living organisms (from microbes to plants, animals and the human body) and biological processes (including both disease pathology and drug action).

R&D across all parts of this ecosystem - from fundamental understanding to applied research to product development - is crucial for the delivery of long-term economic growth and continued advances in agriculture, food security, healthcare and public health. Historic models of innovation have often been linear, involving a degree of serendipity. Disruptive technologies and scientific breakthroughs will be accelerated if physical scientists, engineers, life scientists and industry work together, and at scale. This is the domain of the Rosalind Franklin Institute (RFI): with a focal point (Hub) at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, linked to formal Spokes in leading HEIs across the UK, it will integrate complementary expertise from academia and industry to create a national centre of excellence for methods development at the convergence of the physical and life sciences.

The RFI will develop disruptive next-generation imaging technologies that will enable step changes in our understanding of cell and disease biology, and the non-invasive diagnosis and treatment of some conditions. It will design new methods and strategies for drug discovery - enhancing R&D productivity in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical sectors and supporting faster, more cost-effective development of novel medicines for currently intractable diseases, or new herbicides. It will create high-value jobs, protect and attract inward investment, and drive long-term growth; and contribute to the delivery of the Government's innovation, industrial and regional strategies.

The RFI will focus on high-risk, long-term R&D challenges. A high degree of uncertainty, significant spill-overs and the need for multi-party collaboration all contribute to under-investment by the private sector, relative to socially optimal levels. Government intervention - in the form of the RFI (£79.6m CDEL and £23.5m RDEL in the period 2016-21) - is needed to de-risk and accelerate early-stage discovery and innovation; and to foster the usability and integration (and therefore the real-world uptake) on which the disruptive impact of new technologies ultimately depends.

Planned Impact

The RFI will deliver a broad range of inter-connected benefits to the UK economy. These will fall into two categories:
- direct outputs from the RFI itself (mostly in the short or medium-term); and
- long-term impacts delivered by third parties, enabled by the application of RFI outputs.

The primary driver for creating the RFI is to realise eventual impact via clinical or industrial application. But novel methods will also have a disruptive effect on discovery research, helping to maintain UK leadership in the life sciences. Thus, there will be varying routes and timelines to the final economic and societal impacts: in some instances, through direct industry take-up or clinical translation of RFI outputs; in others, via 'enabling' advances in (academic) life science research.

The direct outputs of the RFI itself will comprise:
- Disruptive imaging methods (including dynamic and multi-modal techniques).
- Novel chemical tools and other platform technologies for enhanced drug discovery.
- High-value, high-skill job creation (from Year 2), including apprenticeship opportunities.
- Enhanced UK skills base in instrument design and manufacture (Year 3+). Collaborations with industrial partners will see RFI staff spend time abroad before returning to the UK to install prototype instruments in the RFI, working alongside industry engineers.
- Creation of new companies to commercialise products and services developed within the RFI. Spin-out activity is expected to encompass scientific and medical instrumentation (incl. niche components), analytical services, and drug discovery.
- Company ecosystem clustering. Government investment catalysed the creation of a 'Space Cluster' at Harwell. Public investment in the RFI will have a similar effect in bio-pharmaceuticals and instrumentation, and help to establish the conditions that will ensure great technologies which are developed in the UK are built in the UK.

Longer-term impacts from the application of disruptive technologies developed in the RFI include:
- New imaging methods will allow study of processes over time and at real-world scales - transforming our understanding of cell biology and disease pathology (in humans, animals and crops), and our ability to study how drugs work (drug action).
- Disruptive new methods for 'hypothesis testing' will enable faster development of more effective, safer and cheaper drugs and vaccines (including treatments for chronic conditions and currently intractable diseases).
- Faster, more cost-effective drug development may help to lower unit prices of new medicines, reduce the proportion of new treatments declined by NICE for NHS use on cost-benefit or value for money grounds, and accelerate and widen take-up by patients.
- New biomedical imaging techniques will allow earlier, non-invasive diagnosis of certain cancers and diseases, and improve the accuracy of therapeutic or surgical interventions - potentially delivering increased out-patient throughput, shorter recovery times, and lower costs.
- Increase in inward investment and exports. The RFI's unique focus will help to protect (and potentially increase) the UK's share of global pharmaceutical R&D expenditure RFI outputs will also boost the UK share of the global market for medical technologies and scientific instrumentation (e.g., photo-acoustics or mass spectrometry).


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