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47 pictures as Heart and Lung Research Institute officially opens on Cambridge Biomedical Campus with ambitious target



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The Heart and Lung Research Institute (HLRI) has been officially opened at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus with an ambition to create 10 proof-of-concept drugs or diagnostics in just five years to impact the lives of patients, writes editor Paul Brackley.

The Duchess of Gloucester did the honours on Monday at the institute, which will house the largest concentration of scientists and clinicians in cardiovascular and respiratory science in Europe.

Official opening of the Heart and Lung Institute by the Duchess of Gloucester . Picture: Keith Heppell. (57894320)
Official opening of the Heart and Lung Institute by the Duchess of Gloucester . Picture: Keith Heppell. (57894320)

A joint venture between the University of Cambridge and Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, it lies next door to the world-famous hospital, renowned for many firsts – including, at its original site in 1979, the first successful heart transplant in the UK.

Prof Nick Morrell, from the University of Cambridge, director of the HLRI, said: “This is an extremely exciting day for us, the result of many years of planning and much hard work, and promises to transform outcomes for patients with cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses.

The Heart and Lung Research Institute on Cambridge Biomedical Campus. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Heart and Lung Research Institute on Cambridge Biomedical Campus. Picture: Keith Heppell

“The HLRI brings together two powerhouses of world-leading discovery, innovation and clinical care.

“This constellation of clinical and academic excellence, in close proximity to major pharmaceutical industry partners, is unusual – there isn’t anything like it in the UK.”

Lying close to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, AstraZeneca’s new global research and development building and world-leading institutes like the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, the HLRI aims to deliver high-impact research that will enable breakthroughs in the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of diseases that still represent the largest health burden in the world.

Official opening of the Heart and Lung Research Institute by the Duchess of Gloucester. Picture: Keith Heppell
Official opening of the Heart and Lung Research Institute by the Duchess of Gloucester. Picture: Keith Heppell

One in four deaths in the UK is caused by cardiovascular disease, and one in five by respiratory disease – and their prevalence is growing, despite our awareness of risk factors like smoking and poor diet.

Martin Bennett, British Heart Foundation professor of cardiovascular sciences, said: “When you’re tackling big and global problems, there are lots of elements to consider. There’s what causes the disease, how you diagnose the disease, how you manage it, and how you change things at the population level.

Official opening of the Heart and Lung Research Institute by the Duchess of Gloucester. Picture: Keith Heppell
Official opening of the Heart and Lung Research Institute by the Duchess of Gloucester. Picture: Keith Heppell

“We’ve got people that cover everything from discovery, validation, and clinical trials, through to implementation – the whole pipeline all could be done in one building.”

The team has set itself an ambitious target of developing at least 10 new proof-of-concept drugs or diagnostic approaches in five years.

The Duchess of Gloucester official opens the Heart and Lung Research Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Duchess of Gloucester official opens the Heart and Lung Research Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell

“It’s good to have a goal,” explained Prof Morrell. “It sets our stall out as to what we’re here for.

“This is about translational science. Our goal isn’t just to publish high-impact papers in internationally recognised journals. The end game here has to be delivering on the promise of that science.”

Prof Nick Morrell at the official opening of the Heart and Lung Research Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell
Prof Nick Morrell at the official opening of the Heart and Lung Research Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell

Prof John Wallwork, chairman of Royal Papworth Hospital, said of the new site: “This will be a huge step forward and demonstrates the very best of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus – cross-site collaboration with the best researchers in the world to help to save lives.

Prof John Wallwork at the official opening of the Heart and Lung Research Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell
Prof John Wallwork at the official opening of the Heart and Lung Research Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell

“HLRI will mean new treatments will be created, tested and delivered all on one site to tackle the biggest causes of premature death in the world. It will also allow us to provide further education and training to clinicians tackling heart and lung disease worldwide.

“Bringing together the best researchers, scientists and clinicians in the world will help save lives and allow us to make even quicker progress in bringing tomorrow’s treatments to today’s patients.”

The institute has been funded by the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, which has contributed £30m, the University of Cambridge and the Wolfson Foundation. The British Heart Foundation has donated £10m towards the project, with Royal Papworth Hospital Charity contributing £5m and further support provided by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust for its Innovation Hub inside.

Official opening of the Heart and Lung Research Institute by the Duchess of Gloucester. Picture: Keith Heppell
Official opening of the Heart and Lung Research Institute by the Duchess of Gloucester. Picture: Keith Heppell

Prof Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The HLRI will provide incredible opportunities for world-leading experts to work together more closely than ever to drive research into heart and circulatory diseases. We are proud to support the institute to achieve its ambitious goals and become a new leader in the fight against the world’s biggest killers.”

Cardiovascular disease causes nearly 18 million deaths per year, mostly due to heart attacks and stroke, with respiratory disease not far behind, according to the World Health Organisation, which puts the cost at more than £840billion a year.

Official opening of the Heart and Lung Research Institute by the Duchess of Gloucester. Picture: Keith Heppell
Official opening of the Heart and Lung Research Institute by the Duchess of Gloucester. Picture: Keith Heppell

What - and who - is inside?

More than 380 researchers and clinicians will be based at the HLRI, which will house:

  • British Heart Foundation (BHF) Cambridge Centre for Cardiovascular Research Excellence – laboratories studying genomics, population sciences, cellular mechanisms of disease and translational science will allow scientists to understand and treat some of the major killers, including coronary heart disease, coronary artery disease, pulmonary hypertension and stroke.
  • The Cystic Fibrosis Trust Innovation Hub, headed by Prof Andres Floto, will look at inflammatory lung diseases, including cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). “Our approach – repurposing off-the-shelf drugs in small scale studies to get an idea about what the impact is of modulating those pathways in man – is really exciting. I think it probably puts us in a very unique position in the world,” says Prof Floto.
  • The Wolfson Lung Injury Unit, headed by Prof Charlotte Summers, aims to understand the mechanisms underlying acute lung injury – including damage as results of pneumonia and Covid-19, among other causes – to develop new therapies. “Every year, 400,000 children under the age of five die of pneumonia, and the predominant mode of death worldwide for these children, and for many thousands of adults, is from their lungs failing to deliver oxygen,” she said.
  • A Clinical Research Facility will open later this year, headed by Dr Mark Toshner, and enable up to 10 patients at a time to take part in studies. Dr Toshner aims to transform how these studies take place, working with patients to co-design research. Dr Toshner explained: “The idea is to take some of the great basic science we do in Cambridge and then make sure it gets applied in a way that results in changing clinical practice and improving patients’ lives.”

Also inside is collaboration space for academia, healthcare, charity and industry to work together and education facilities including seminar rooms and a lecture theatre.



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