Professor Sir John Tooke, Academic Director of UCLPartners and Vice-Provost (Health) at UCL, on why London's AHSCs formed MedCity

2014 has been the year of dementia, with world leaders pledging sustained action to tackle the staggering scale and impacts of the condition. The G7 has set an ambitious target of a cure or disease-modifying therapy by 2025, and a World Dementia Council is bringing together renowned experts to lead the campaign for better diagnostics and treatments.

As an academic health science partnership, UCLPartners supports this ambition and has a number of initiatives in place to respond to, and prevent, the devastating effect of dementia, including discovering and researching new treatment and prevention techniques. As a partnership, there is a drive to grow existing capability in neurosciences, building on the existing strengths at Queen Square, already one of the UK’s leading centres for clinical research, education and care in dementia.

But even one of the leading centres for neuroscience research and development can’t tackle dementia all by itself. And for Sir John Tooke, that fundamental understanding of the importance of collaboration is what drives UCLPartners’ agenda – including the decision to set up MedCity.

“UCL is second in the world, and first in Europe, for neuroscience, but no one centre has the full complement of expertise,” he says. “Dementia is a global endeavour, and partnership is at the core of our philosophy.

“It’s also very much the MedCity spirit – we are far stronger and achieve much more collectively than in isolation.”

MedCity was originated and founded by London’s three academic health science centres – UCLPartners, King’s Health Partners and Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre – as a practical expression of the need to collaborate, which Sir John views as both a moral and an economic imperative.

“This is about the UK’s economic place in the world. The competition is global, it isn’t between UCL, King’s and Imperial,” he says. “We are extremely good at medical science, and we must make the most of what we do.”

That’s why, he adds, MedCity’s engagement with other major centres of excellence in the UK – most notably Oxford and Cambridge – is so important.

“Early scoping work showed very clearly that investors see the south east region as a cluster and not as a series of separate institutions. We need to leverage that, and that is best managed by MedCity, which can project the region’s opportunities and strengths and give investors and partners an easily visible point of engagement.”

UCLPartners AHSC is made up of three world-leading universities and five NHS hospitals. As a wider network, UCLPartners has over 40 member institutions and covers a population of around six million people. Like other AHSCs, UCLPartners’ agenda is to harness science to develop new and better treatments and diagnostics, with a focus on developing centres of specialism and expertise around broad themes, such as neuroscience and cardiology. This, says Sir John, is an extremely helpful model for commercial partners working in particular disease areas, for whom the scale and concentration of expertise is important.

This focus on translatable science also underpins the new Francis Crick Institute, of which UCL is a founding partner. This also is strongly collaborative, not just between London’s leading research institutions but also relating to clinical and industry partners to provide a straight route from basic research to commercialisation and application.

“The scientific opportunities are huge,” says Sir John, “and they are changing the way we think about therapy. It is essential for society that we push forward this momentum for collaboration, and get our excellence in medical science working as effectively as it possibly can – for everyone’s benefit.”

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