The random neighbourhood in South London that’s home to thousands of top scientists

In a quiet corner of South London thousands of top scientists and researchers are working on the next big breakthroughs in cancer treatments. The London Cancer Hub in the Belmont area of Sutton is already a bustling campus but will grow in the coming years. It is expected to create 13,000 jobs, 7,000 in the life-sciences and another 6,200 in the site’s construction.

The hub was built around the existing Royal Marsden cancer hospital. It includes a Maggie’s Cancer Centre, providing free support for patients, the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and even secondary school, Harris Academy Sutton, on part of the site. On a sunny afternoon the Local Democracy Reporting Service visited the expanding hub for a look around. Wildflower gardens surround impressive new buildings.

There is the ICR’s £75million Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery which opened in 2020 and is now bustling with more than 200 drug discovery scientists and evolution experts. While the Oaks Cancer Centre, opened in June 2023 by the Prince of Wales, is a research and treatment facility that will help accelerate the development of new treatments.

READ MORE: New South London hospital will be built as government finally hands over the cash after 3 years of uncertainty

London Cancer Hub
Dr Sandra Hanks is the UK Laboratory Director for Curesponse based at the Innovation Gateway

In an unassuming building on the edge of the current site is the Innovation Gateway, where a range of companies are working away on ground breaking advances in the cancer field. It was opened in early 2022 and is a partnership between ICR and Sutton Council.

Curesponse moved in in September 2022 and is the only business of its type in the UK. The Israeli company was set up in 2018 and Dr Sandra Hanks heads up the UK operation where she works with two lab technicians Naoise Costelloe and Cindy Harricharan.

Curesponse takes a patient’s tumour biopsy and keeps it alive for up to seven days. It slices the tissue into sections and treats each part with different drugs. It can then see how the patient’s tumour reacts to each drug and which is the most effective.

Dr Hanks had previously worked in clinical genomics, the study of genes, at both the Royal Marsden and the Institute for Cancer and said the labs in Sutton were a good fit for the growing company.

She said: “The thing about our tests is we can keep the tumour viable so it really does mimic what it going on inside a patient’s body when we do the tests. This can really benefit patient care and assist a patients oncologist in determining the best treatment. Because this is an oncology community, it made absolute sense to come to the London Cancer Hub.”

Emily Curtis and Chris Cottrell founded The Exercise Clinic and want to help thousands of cancer patients

Down the hall, a small office is home to the Exercise Clinic, which wants to transform the life of people living with cancer, especially prostate cancer. Here we meet co-founders Emily Curtis and Chris Cottrell who have worked with hundreds of prostate cancer patients at the Royal Marsden since 2020. Most are on hormone therapy which stops testosterone and the clinic has found targeted exercises can mitigate the the effects of this treatment.

Chris was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer himself 12 years ago and given just a few years to live. He was referred to an exercise programme in 2013 by an oncologist who he said was “ahead of his time” which is how he met Emily.

He said: “I was give a relatively short time to live but I am now living with advanced prostate cancer and have many years to go. When you get diagnosed it is scary because you don’t really know what lies ahead. You don’t know much about the disease and you don’t want to help, you have no idea what is safe to do.”

Chris participates in every group session the Exercise Clinic runs. He still takes powerful hormone therapies which block testosterone which can lead to a loss of muscle mass, bone thinning, fatigue and a loss of libido. Exercise can combat these effects in patients and the business is committed to research on the benefits for patents.

Emily said: “We do one-to-one sessions and six group sessions each week and collect information through the project. The big aim is to help a lot of people with a safe and long-term exercise regime that fits with them.”

The Oaks Cancer Centre is one of the newest building at the London Cancer Hub

Chris wants thousands more patients to experience the benefits he has seen from the programme. He added: “When I had my treatment originally it was it was the toughest. I have now been on the same treatment for six years. Exercise has been life changing for me, it allows me to live a normal life.

“We are working with hundreds of patients and are working with an idea that will allow us to work with thousands of patients, very few people are doing what we are doing.”

There are plans to expand the London Cancer Hub further. Earlier this year, Sutton Council approved plans to demolish a series of Victorian buildings it owns on the edge of the site which had been a children’s hospital in the past. The council is now looking for an investor to build new facilities on the site and hopes a partner will be found by the end of the year.

Sutton, London Cancer Hub
Naoise Costelloe of Curesponse is one of the researchers working in the Innovation Gateway

The authority was also awarded £14 million of government Levelling Up funding to increase services to Belmont Station, a 10 minute walk from the hub. It will be used to double the number of trains per hour from two to four.

Council leader, Councillor Ruth Dombey, said: “I’m so proud that Sutton is already a hub for world-leading cancer care and research. Our partners at the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden, and the companies at the Innovation Gateway, do incredible work treating cancer, discovering new drugs and saving lives.

London365 – Belmont, Sutton

MyLondon visited Belmont in the Borough of Sutton as part of our London365 project, where our reporters will be visiting a different part of the city every day in 2023.

Ever wondered what it’s like to live in the part of London furthest from a Tube station? Or in the shadow of one of the world’s busiest airports? How is gentrification impacting some of London’s neighbourhoods hardest hit by the cost of living crisis?

From Brent to Bromley, Hillingdon to Havering, and everywhere in between, the MyLondon team will explore the biggest issues facing Londoners, while celebrating every part of the city this year.

Where should we go next? Email To see all the other neighbourhoods we have visited in 2023, click here.

Want more from MyLondon? Enjoying our London 365 project? Sign up to our tailored newsletters here.

“Our plans to expand the London Cancer Hub will really move things up a gear. We’re now preparing the council-owned land for new state-of-the-art facilities. This includes clearing the derelict old Sutton Hospital buildings, so people will see real change in the coming months.

“Together with our ambitious plans to transform nearby Sutton Town Centre, the London Cancer Hub will put Sutton firmly on the map as a great place to live, work, spend time and do business. I can’t wait to see the vision become a reality.”

Want more from MyLondon? Enjoying our London 365 project? Sign up to our tailored newsletters here.

My London – Sutton