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MGAC Behind the Build: The Institute of Cancer Research, Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery


Credit: Richard Fraser Photography

MGAC was founded on a simple promise: to take the most interesting, ambitious project ideas and make them a reality. Getting there is a matter of countless small steps, conversations, and carefully-calibrated decisions, taking place between day one and that long-awaited delivery day. These are the moments that make a project. With our Behind the Build series, we take a closer look at the roads that lead to a final product, delving into the ways our talented, passionate team makes a project possible. Today, we revisit our work with The Institute of Cancer Research’s Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery.

At MGAC, we have the distinct privilege of helping visionary endeavours come to life. Pioneering projects that push the boundaries of possibility and transform the world as we know it. But few embody this quite as fully as The Institute of Cancer Research’s (ICR) new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery. Located in Sutton, England, this unprecedented facility is changing the landscape of cancer research on a global scale as its scientists lead groundbreaking discoveries to fight cancer.


The world’s largest academic cancer drug discovery and development group, ICR, has built an outstanding record of achievement over the past 100+ years. The organisation is also a longstanding project partner of our firm. So, when the ICR team enlisted our cost management expertise on its forthcoming Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, we were all in.

This first-of-its-kind facility was conceived to bring renowned, cross-discipline researchers together within a single collaborative space where, as a collective powerhouse, they could discover anti-evolution therapies that outsmart cancer and improve cure rates. We joined a project team that included the award-winning architecture firm Feilden + Mawson and quickly employed our sector knowledge to help our client select and procure a main contractor, the industry-leading Kier Group.


From the jump, we knew our work on this project was cut out for us. As a charitable trust, ICR is subject to strict funding boundaries that would make delivery of the laboratory research hub no small feat. As part of our scope, MGAC needed to manage the overall project costs and construction budget to align with ICR’s Board of Trustees, Investment Committee, and UK Research Partnership Investment Fund requirements. There was also the sheer technical scale of it all to consider—and the added challenge of delivering a solution nimble enough to outpace cancer’s lethal ability to evolve resistance to treatment.

Like a stack of nesting dolls, each start-up task required the execution of a series of smaller ones in order to get off the ground. Take helping ICR secure project funding, one of our earliest endeavours. This multi-layer process first required us to produce a bill of quantities: a hyper-detailed, page-by-page analysis of the entire project design and subsequent cost. All told, the bill of quantities we produced for this project would total some 227 pages.

But before we could individually itemise and quantify every part and piece of the project, we needed to understand it on a fundamental level. To gain that knowledge, we worked closely with designers and engaged in conversations with scientific experts to understand exactly what it would take to deliver on such a specialised scope. Are unique ventilation or mechanical structures required for these complex laboratories? Are there only two suppliers in the world who can connect us with specific equipment we need? Answers to these types of questions would be foundational in carving our path ahead.

Credit: Richard Fraser Photography


Given its sizeable scope and unique funding requirements, the design, pricing, and funding stage of this £75-million project stretched over multiple years. Anticipating this, we future-proofed the site as efficiently as we could during the initial design stage. Of course, that didn’t stop rapidly evolving technology from doing just that in the interim.

It was paramount to ensure the facility would be customised for the most cutting-edge research. With funding fully secured, we swiftly assessed the latest advances in design for science and technology, updating earlier plans to accommodate new approaches and equipment—to stay ahead of the curve, we continued to proactively fine-tune plans over the course of construction. Throughout this process, we enlisted our change management expertise to keep ICR fully briefed and the project moving seamlessly.


In 2021, the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery officially opened, with Princess Anne present to commemorate the event. Today, the innovative, 91,493f2 space spans four floors that house biology, chemistry, and computational laboratories, as well as meeting rooms and collaboration hubs to encourage the exchange of ideas and the exploration of creative solutions. Throughout the building, more than 300 world-leading cancer and evolutionary biologists, chemists, big-data specialists, and clinician scientists collaboratively tackle the biggest challenge in cancer research today: cancer treatment resistance. The centre has brought scientists and their teams together, housing both the study of cancer evolution and the development of new cancer drugs under one roof, for the very first time.

The Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery is the latest in a series of projects MGAC has successfully delivered for ICR throughout our longstanding partnership. At the same time, it marks the beginning of a new era. We are proud to have played a part in delivering a game changing facility that equips and enables world-class researchers to make transformative discoveries with one common goal: to overcome cancer, once and for all.

Video content courtesy of the Institute of Cancer Research.

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