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Ideas & Observations

Innovation lab celebrates one-year anniversary in future proofing diagnostics

A North East-based lab is celebrating one year since it was set up to accelerate the development of the next generation of virus testing.

The innovation lab, based at The Biosphere in Newcastle Helix and hosted by The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, brings together a partnership of local universities, healthcare organisations and industry, with the aim of bringing new approaches and technology to mainstream use.

Since launching in January 2021, the lab has engaged with over 70 organisations across the globe from the USA to Australia – with 58 based in the UK – and has 21 contracts in place with 12 companies.

Dr John Tyson, head of the Innovation lab, said: “We have created a unique service that offers an ‘open door’ to test developers and researchers and we are here to support organisations in evaluating and validating their new tests.

“It’s really important that new diagnostics and technologies are thoroughly tested using the correct approaches.

“We have found our offer is much needed, particularly as we can provide access to carefully classified Covid samples and material, which can be difficult to obtain.”

The Innovation lab works in close partnership with the Lighthouse Covid testing lab in Gateshead, which has helped to develop a biobank of 15,000 Covid-19 samples.

The evaluation taking place at the innovation lab is helping to not only tackle the current pandemic but also ensure diagnostics stay one step ahead of future virus threats.

The work now spans environmental surveillance, oncology and wider infectious diseases.

Dr Tyson added:

“As the pandemic one day subsides, we should capitalise on the progress that has been made in diagnostics.

“We want to continue to support the development of new tests so they are of higher quality and can be more widely accessed.”

The team works with small, medium and large companies who are at different stages of developing new diagnostic approaches and may be experiencing challenges accessing what’s needed for the next stage of evaluation.

The Innovation lab recently had a visit from Matthew Whitty, Director of Innovation, Research and Life Sciences at NHS England and NHS Improvement.