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MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

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MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
Brief descriptionThe primary goal of the LMB is to understand biological processes at the molecular level with the ultimate aim of using this knowledge to tackle specific problems in human health and disease.
Year established1947
History/backgroundIn 1947 the Medical Research Council set up a 'Unit for Research on the Molecular Structure of Biological Systems' to enable Max Perutz and John Kendrew to develop their work using X-ray diffraction to study proteins. The unit quickly diversified into other areas, including the structure of DNA, mechanism of muscle contraction, and structure of viruses, and became one of the birthplaces of modern molecular biology. This work was done while the unit was housed in the Physics Department at the Cavendish Laboratory. The MRC, realising the potential for medical applications of these developments, provided a new building for the unit, and in 1962 the Laboratory of Molecular Biology on the new Addenbrooke's site was opened. Since then, the Laboratory has been a prolific source of new ideas, discoveries and inventions, establishing its reputation as a leading international research centre.
Main fundersMedical Research Council (MRC)
DirectorSir Hugh Pelham
Structure4 divisions:

- Cell Biology
- Neurobiology
- Protein and Nucleic Acid Chemistry
- Structural Studies

The divisions are complemented by a new, chemistry-orientated, Centre for Chemical and Synthetic Biology (CCSB) set up to provide the resources needed to drive synthetic biology forward.
Staff- over 400 scientists and supporting staff
- 320 directly carry out research
- more than 50 groups
- around 80 of the researchers are PhD students
Accolades and achievementsThe Laboratory has won 10 Nobel Prizes, shared by 14 scientists, for key discoveries and research undertaken in Cambridge. Many of the current staff members are internationally recognised leaders in their fields. MRC research stemming from LMB in the 1970s resulted in the development of monoclonal antibodies suitable for therapeutic use. This has been the foundation of the global monoclonal antibody business which has more than £30 billion in sales annually.
Spin-out companiesCambridge Antibody Technology (CAT) - acquired by AstraZeneca in 2006 for £702 million
Domantis - acquired by GlaxoSmithKline in 2006 for £230 million
Bicycle Therapeutics
Working with industryExamples of the most common types of relationships that MRC Units in Cambridge forge with industry include:
- Collaborative research projects
- Post-doc or PhD funding
- Material or technology use licenses
A number of LMB scientists also act in a personal capacity as consultants or on Scientific Advisory Boards.
LocationIn early 2013 the LMB moved into a new, purpose-built building, designed to deliver the right environment in which innovative medical research, translation and collaboration can flourish.

Costing £212 million − paid for in part from the royalties derived from antibody-related work at the LMB − the new building provides first class facilities to some of the world’s leading scientists. At approximately twice the size of the LMB’s previous home, the new building provides around 27,000m2 of world-class workspace, divided between three main floors. Much of the floor space is devoted to central facilities, including a containment suite, computing, media preparation, chemistry labs, X-ray facilities, electron and optical microscopy, mass spectrometry, fermentation, stores, maintenance and lab management. The building also includes state-of-the-art mechanical, electrical and computing workshops, and sufficient ‘free’ space for future equipment and facilities.

The building has space to accommodate around 600 people including 440 scientists and 160 support staff. To help encourage the exchange of ideas and technical innovation, 40 scientists from the University of Cambridge will be based in the new building, working alongside 360 scientists from the LMB. In addition, a further 40 workspaces have been set aside for temporary projects such as initiatives to support translational work. Although a building of this size can be intimidating, the space has been designed to encourage easy navigation, interaction and collaboration – with open, airy walkways, coffee-rooms and ‘breakout areas’ on each floor and a spacious staff restaurant and open-air terrace at roof level.

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