Launched at the height of the pandemic in January 2021, the North East Innovation Lab, now part of the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, was initially set up with a focus on accelerating the development of Covid-19 diagnostic tests.
Scientists at the lab work closely with the NHS, industry and academic partners to evaluate and validate new diagnostic tests and projects have now expanded to assess technologies for the detection of other virus and health threats such as, cancers and infectious diseases.
With access to a biobank of around 20,000 clinical samples and associated detailed metadata (data that gives information about another set of data), the team is well-placed to ‘test the tests’ for accuracy, useability and efficiency.
The Innovation Lab’s global reach sees the team engage with companies ranging from spin-outs and start-ups to international organisations from Australia, China, the USA as well as the UK.
We spoke to Dr John Tyson, Head of Lab at the North East Innovation Lab to find out more about their journey so far.
Why is Newcastle the location of the choice for life science businesses?
Newcastle has a burgeoning health and life sciences sector combined with a world-class, innovative teaching hospital trust, and we benefit hugely from being a part of it.
Based in The Biosphere, and part of the wider Newcastle Helix community, we’re co-located with other key partners in the life science and biotechnology space, such as Newcastle University. The region’s Academic Health Science Network is also located nearby.
The thriving life science community here sees strong links between NHS, local authority, academia and industry and having a dedicated life sciences quarter on Newcastle Helix, supports and harnesses connections with other like-minded businesses is a real benefit.
The city as a whole is vibrant and energetic and has great transport links within the region and to other parts of the country so we are able to connect and travel to events and meetings with ease. It’s a fantastic place to work and live.
What were your reasons for setting up operations in The Biosphere?
The Biosphere provided a ‘lab-ready’ secure space, meaning we were able to quickly establish operations at a time of real pressure. The building was constructed specifically with the life science sector in mind, which made things easier from the start. For example, it allowed us to easily install what was required to tailor the space to our business needs.
Knowing we would be co-located with other tenants from the sector, right in the city centre also made perfect sense. We’re here with like-minded organisations who are driving forward innovation and research and we’ve already benefitted from new opportunities and connections with other tenants.
Why do you think more and more businesses are choosing Newcastle over the Golden Triangle?
The region offers better value all round! We have a skilled and experienced workforce, lots of entrepreneurs, more affordable and high-quality business accommodation, five highly rated universities with impressive graduates, plus excellent national and international transport links.
How would you describe the life science and business community in the city?
Connected, innovative, thriving, mutually-supportive and an exciting place to be! It’s completely different compared to what it was just 15 years ago in terms of the number of companies working in the sector but also the breadth of work being undertaken here – everything from diagnostics to innovative therapeutic treatments.
What do you think is driving life science sector growth here?
The need to be innovative in how we diagnose, investigate and treat disease and ill-health. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on science and, for us, it’s raised awareness of diagnostics, in particular how testing and technology can be used to identify and resolve health threats.
Newcastle has been described as an untapped market, with a growing private sector that wasn’t here 10 years ago. What is the opportunity here?
There’s real opportunity to further link up the NHS, universities and private sector to identify and tackle a whole range of health issues. We are keen to work with even more inventors and developers to make sure their products and ideas are effective, accurate and usable.
It seems more of us are now aware of how to manage our own health and wellbeing and are keen to have more information to help do this. During the pandemic people became comfortable with testing themselves for Covid and there’s an opportunity to build on that for other health and wellbeing demands.
For more information about the North East Innovation Lab visit https://commercial.newcastle-hospitals.nhs.uk/our-services/innovation-lab/