New NHS laboratory will accelerate innovative approaches for virus testing

A new specialist laboratory to develop innovative ways of Covid-19 testing has opened in Newcastle.

Based at The Biosphere in Newcastle Helix, and hosted by The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the Innovation Lab is staffed by expert scientists who are working to speed up new approaches for virus testing and technology.

The Innovation Lab is part of the Integrated Covid Hub for the North East (ICHNE), which aims to transform COVID-19 test and trace capabilities in the region, and was first initiated by Collaborative Newcastle partners who came together to propose an alternative model for dealing with the pandemic. Together they developed plans for ICHNE, building on key local strengths, including strong partnership working, high-quality clinical services, excellent universities and effective public health arrangements.

The Innovation Lab team will work 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 research.

Innovation lab scientists can provide unique access to facilities designed to accelerate the development and roll out of cutting-edge methods, including a high-tech testing and simulation area and access to a bank of biological samples for research.

The lab’s work will bring together networks and expertise ranging from local through to international organisations, with key partners including NHS, universities and private sector industry.

Dr Vicky Macfarlane-Reid, director for enterprise and business development at Newcastle Hospitals said:

“The innovation lab is specifically designed to bring together expertise across sectors and remove any barriers to developing new, improved ways of virus testing.

“We know there are a lot of great ideas and there’s some very hard work going already. Our absolute focus to make it easier for doctors and scientists from across the NHS, academia and private sector to work together to make new diagnostics a reality as quickly as possible.

“We want to get a step ahead in the fight – in the short term we’re focused on Covid-19 and in the long term we want to improve resilience for fighting any viruses that could hit us in the future.

“Our potential industry partners could be from the region, elsewhere in the country or global organisations.”

The lab’s first two projects are now underway:

  • Working with Newcastle’s RVI hospital to validate and verify a new point of care diagnostic test for Covid-19, developed by a global medtech company.
  • Trials for a new piece of PCR Covid testing kit, which has the potential to analyse a sample within 30 minutes significantly faster than the usual time.


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