This spring, the City of London Chamber hosted an event at the Guildhall at which Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute and Nobel laureate, was the keynote speaker

At the event Sir Paul articulated London’s vision as a leading biosciences hub, aiming for economic growth, green initiatives, healthcare improvements, and environmental protection – all to promote innovation and uphold democratic discovery principles through research facilities. Afterwards Sir Paul spoke to Vittoria Zerbini.

Vittoria Zerbini: The Spring Budget allocated £240 million for housing and the life sciences hub in Canary Wharf. Do you have any thoughts on the impact of this investment and whether it was wise given it’s an already wealthy area?
Sir Paul Nurse: The Canary Wharf biosciences hub is to be welcomed. It complements the pre-existing ones in East and West London. We’re also trying to develop something in Kings Cross, where the Crick Institute is. These hubs are all needed, no matter the location.

VZ: Within these hubs there is a wealth of knowledge and talent. At the event you mentioned how the Crick Institute houses four Nobel laureates and collaborates with over 100 universities, and how, as a country, we need to invest more on training young people. What are your thoughts on the data published by the Guardian a few weeks ago that showed a 40 per cent drop in postgraduate enrolments and a fall of a third in international students overall in the UK?

PN: In my view this is a real problem and it’s all entirely due to Brexit. Brexit is damaging the economy, which consequently damages other areas of the country’s wellbeing, making the UK no longer an attractive place, particularly for Europeans. Because of this, we’re missing out on talent. Thankfully at the Crick Institute we are not seeing any fall off so it’s not across the board, but I think it is really damaging.

VZ: Do you think coming here today can help forge new bonds to support life sciences? A mutual relationship could be established between the City and sciences.

PN: Well, it’s certainly why I came! I mean, partly to raise awareness, partly to motivate this important community – as they should be aware of the issues we are facing in life sciences – especially when it comes to long-term vision. I am positive that there is a mutual relationship to be established between the two. While life sciences can help tackle the climate emergency, it needs substantial investments in infrastructure and to attract more talent, particularly in the fragile system of discovery. It is disheartening to note that government spending on science has dwindled to a mere 0.4 per cent of GDP, ranking 27th among OECD nations. This erosion of funding jeopardises the capabilities of both government and universities, hindering their ability to keep pace with global advancements.

VZ: How can we market life sciences?

PN: We need a comprehensive, long-term strategy that prioritises investment in scientific research and innovation. It must bridge the gap between government, universities, and research institutes, fostering greater collaboration across sectors. Moreover, private investors must align their interests with the sustained growth and development of scientific endeavours over decades. This does require a fundamental shift in mindset, away from short-term gains towards enduring societal benefits. What we require is not just scientifically trained politicians, but a collective commitment from a diverse array of stakeholders who prioritise science and innovation. Only then can we realise the full potential of London as a global leader in the new industrial revolution, forging a path towards a brighter and more sustainable future for all.

Vittoria Zerbini is media assistant at LCCI