Drugs labs to become high-tech research centre

The laboratories working to spot Olympic drugs cheats will be used to create a cutting-edge scientific research centre once the Games are over, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.

Mr Cameron set out plans for the £10m centre in a speech to a global health summit in London in which he declared his ambition to make the UK “the best place in the world to invest and innovate in life sciences”.

The world’s first phenome centre will allow experts to investigate links between genes and diseases, helping usher in a new age of treatments tailored to individuals’ genetic make-up, the PM said.

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The facility will occupy the 2012 Games’ anti-doping centre in Harlow, Essex, where scientists analyse samples from all medallists.

The centre cleared 16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen of taking banned substances after American coach John Leonard sparked controversy by describing her world record-breaking performance as “disturbing”.

Speaking to an audience of 500 clinicians, investors and policy-makers from around the world, Mr Cameron said: “When the Games close, all this incredible equipment and expertise will be used to establish a new phenome centre for research into biological markers of health and disease.

“This will take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities that lie in combining genetic data with the results of medical tests on tissues and blood.

“It will allow us to understand the characteristics of disease and how these link into genes and our environment.

“It’s an impressive example of collaboration between top-class research, the NHS and industry.

“It will produce new forms of drugs and it will lead the world in the development of precision medicine.”

The centre, run by drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline, will be funded by £10m over five years from the Medical Research Council and the Department of Health’s National Institute for Health Research.

England’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies said: “The advances that will be made by the researchers will help develop new treatments, including treatments specially tailored for the individual.

“This has the potential to revolutionise the way in which we treat a wide range of diseases.”

Mr Cameron also used the speech to bang the drum for international investment in the UK’s life sciences sector, highlighting plans to make use of data collected from NHS patients as a research tool.

“We are about to consult on changing the NHS constitution so that the default setting is for patients’ data to be used for research unless the patient opts out,” he said. “This will make anonymised data available to scientists and researchers on a scale never seen before.

“And it will help make the UK the best place in the world to carry out cutting-edge research.”

Answering questions after his speech, Mr Cameron said he wanted to see closer collaboration between the NHS and the private sector.

“It’s important that we go on making sure that there is collaboration between public and private and we don’t try and block the NHS completely out of that,” he said.