Prince Charles visits as AstraZeneca unveils The Discovery Centre, its £1bn R&D site in Cambridge
The Prince of Wales will be present today (Tuesday, November 23) as AstraZeneca officially unveils its new £1bn research and development facility in Cambridge, called The Discovery Centre (DISC).
Prince Charles will first visit Cambridge market, and talk to stallholders, which the public is invited to watch. He will move on to the University of Cambridge’s Homerton College, before heading to AstraZeneca.
His Royal Highness will be greeted at the stunning site on Cambridge Biomedical Campus by the biopharmaceutical company’s chief executive officer, Pascal Soriot, chairman, Leif Johansson, and other senior leaders, before taking a walking tour and making a short address to guests.
The building, which can house 2,200 research scientists, is home to advanced robotics, high-throughput screening and AI-powered technology used to develop medicines for a range of diseases, including cancers, cardiovascular conditions and respiratory illnesses.
Mr Soriot said: “Our ambition today is to not only unveil a building, but to also drive the next wave of scientific innovation.
“Our new Discovery Centre in Cambridge raises the bar for sustainable R&D and global collaboration across our industry.
“It will allow us to break new boundaries in the understanding of disease biology, bring life-changing medicines to patients and power the next stage of our company’s growth.”
AstraZeneca believes the new R&D centre will aid its focus on specialised and precision medicines, enhancing the discovery and development of next generation therapeutics, including nucleotide-based, gene-editing and cell therapies.
The building’s location on the Biomedical Campus, at the heart of the globally-important Cambridge life science cluster, was chosen to help AstraZeneca collaborate with other world-leading researchers at sites like the neighbouring MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and the University of Cambridge’s School of Clinical Medicine, along with leading hospitals such as Addenbrooke’s and Royal Papworth, and with biotechnology and other life science companies.
AstraZeneca already has 200 active collaborations in the region and more than 2,000 globally across academia, biotech and industry.
The drive towards open collaboration, which has already borne fruit with many scientific projects, is represented in the shape and architecture of the building, which features 19,000 square metres of laboratory space. The courtyard at its centre will be open to the public, who will be able to look through the glass at the work going on inside, where many collaborative spaces have been created by the architects, Herzog & de Meuron.
It was originally hoped that the building could open in 2019, but the complexity of the build and engineering challenges meant that timetable had slipped before the pandemic began.
Contractor Skanska worked on the building from 2014, and a topping out ceremony took place in 2017, before Mace took over in 2018.
The building was designed to the highest environmental standards, in line with AstraZeneca’s sustainability policies.
The new building’s disc-like structure is described as “a feat of environmental engineering”. It features 174 boreholes that provide natural geothermal energy, four ‘hybrid cooling towers’ and a ground source heat pump that will save enough energy to power 2,500 homes.
It boasts low-energy ventilation and high levels of insulation to improve its efficiency, while the ‘saw-tooth’ roof design minimises energy use by flooding the interior with natural daylight.
AstraZeneca announced its Ambition Zero Carbon programme in January 2020, committing to reach zero carbon emissions from its global operations by 2025 and to ensure its entire value chain is carbon negative by 2030, bringing forward decarbonisation plans by more than a decade.
The company’s work on sustainability, which includes the planting of 50 million trees worldwide - the AZ Forest - meant it was one of the first to be awarded the inaugural Terra Carta Seal.
Mr Soriot received the award from the Prince of Wales at the COP26 climate summit earlier this month, where they also launched the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) Health Systems Taskforce, a group of 13 leaders from the public and private sectors, whose goal is to accelerate the delivery of net zero, sustainable healthcare to improve individual, societal and planetary health.
AstraZeneca, which will bring together its teams from multiple sites across the Cambridge region at the DISC, adds to its R&D presence in more than 40 countries. It has strategic research centres at Gaithersburg, Maryland, in the greater Washington DC region of the US, and Gothenburg in Sweden, along with development facilities in China and Japan.
It spends more than $7bn in R&D globally each year, much of it in the UK, and says the new centre will also help it nurture the next generation of science leaders.
It employs 80,000 people worldwide, of which more than 13,000 work exclusively in R&D.
The company has achieved significant progress at improving its productivity, with an almost sixfold improvement since 2005 in the proportion of pipeline molecules that have advanced from preclinical investigation to completion of Phase III clinical trials, from four per cent to 23 per cent. This is significantly above the 2018-20 industry average of 14 per cent.
Its scientists published 1,086 manuscripts, with 138 in high impact peer-review journals, in 2020, compared to one in 2010.
And 2020 was, of course, the year it collaborated with Oxford University to bring a Covid-19 vaccine to millions around the globe.
Earlier this month, the company confirmed it will begin to make a “modest” profit from its Covid-19 vaccine sales as the virus becomes “endemic”, but will continue to supply it at cost to low-income countries.
It agreed with Oxford University to supply it at no profit during the course of the pandemic.
AstraZeneca is focused on five key therapy areas - cardiovascular, renal and metabolism; oncology; respiratory, inflammation and autoimmunity; infection and vaccines; and neuroscience.
The company is also building its South Plot across the road from the R&D centre to house other staff.
AstraZeneca is a sponsor of Researcher of the Year at the Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards, entries to which are open now.