Britain’s biggest biomedical charity is to triple the size of its genetics and biological data facilities near Cambridge, in one of the largest investments in UK research infrastructure.
Wellcome Trust announced on Friday that the expansion, expected to cost more than £1bn, would secure the status of its Genome Campus at Hinxton “as a world-leading hub for genomics and biodata”.
The project will mark the foundation’s first direct investment in science infrastructure as a commercial venture within its £38bn endowment portfolio, rather than being funded through its £1.6bn-a-year research programme.
It will also strengthen the growth in bioscience research concentrated between Oxford, Cambridge and London, in the so-called Golden Triangle.
“This investment will be helping directly to turn cutting-edge science into advances in health as well as generating a return to help fund Wellcome’s mission,” said Paul Schreier, Wellcome’s interim chief executive. for research organizations and innovative companies.”
Urban&Civic, the charity’s own development company, will lead the project, with work on the first phase expected to start next year and the first buildings completed in 2026. It will add 180,000 sq ft of research space, as well as 400 new homes, a gym, swimming pool, shops, transport infrastructure and cafés for people working on the campus.
Some 1.4mn sq ft of lab and research space, 1,500 more homes and community facilities, such as a primary school, will be constructed in future phases.
The overall size of the campus will grow from 125 acres to 440 acres, while the number of scientists and support staff working on it is expected to increase from about 3,000 today to between 7,000 and 9,000.
The expansion will give some scope for growth to the non-profit scientific organizations already thriving on the campus, including the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institute.
But the charity expects the additional lab space to be occupied mainly by newcomers, particularly life sciences companies that focus on commercializing genomic and other biological data.
Nick Moakes, Wellcome’s chief investment officer, said the project would “provide more opportunities to collaborate with bioscience companies” and yield a profit for the charity’s endowment because “in Cambridge today there is absolutely no lab space available”.
He said he did not expect the shortage to ease much in the future because of the lack of land available around the city for scientific development, adding that the problem was evident more widely within the Golden Triangle.
South Cambridgeshire District Council gave the plans outline planning permission in early 2021. Now that the Wellcome board has agreed to fund the project directly from its endowment, detailed design work can proceed.
Some opposition emerged during the planning process from residents keen to preserve the rural nature of the locality, but a majority of council members agreed with Wellcome that the proposal included enough compensating facilities, open space and landscaping.
Moakes said there would “inevitably be some local residents who oppose anything big being done next door to them”, adding: “You will never please everyone but we’re incredibly conscious of the need to engage positively with our near neighbors.”
Science minister George Freeman said Wellcome’s announcement was “another reminder of the key role of our medical research charities and NHS in shaping the new landscape of patient-centred research — and helping the UK lead in the science, standards and commercial adoption of genomics which is transforming life science and medicine”.