Behind the scenes at Newcastle Helix: Covid science and beyond

We talk to John Tyson, about his Innovation Lab team’s work on the next stages of Covid science.

The Biosphere on Newcastle Helix is a hot spot for innovative life science. The latest organisation to join is an Innovation Lab, managed by Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The specialist team is working on the next stage of covid science and beyond. They have a particular focus on speeding up the development of new types of testing.

The Innovation Lab forms part of the Integrated Covid Hub North East. The hubs also runs a new Lighthouse Laboratory based in Gateshead. And there is a regional Covid coordination and response centre based in The Lumen on Newcastle Helix.

The Lab builds on Newcastle Hospitals’ international reputation for life science research and innovation.

The team are all specialists in their fields. They are working with the private sector, NHS, and university partners at local, regional and national levels to coordinate capability and ideas across different sectors.

Their short-term focus is to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, through providing unique access to facilities. This approach will accelerate the mass development and implementation of improved testing. The team’s longer term work is exploring how to provide greater resilience for fighting future pandemics.

We talk to John Tyson, Head of the Innovation Lab. We explore his team’s work and the benefits of locating within the collaborative and innovative eco-system on Newcastle Helix.


The Innovation Lab is specifically designed to bring together expertise across sectors and remove any barriers to developing new, improved ways of virus testing. Tell us more about your team and their work as part of the NHS Integrated Covid Hub?

We are part of the Integrated COVID Hub North East (ICHNE), managed by Newcastle Hospitals.

ICHNE has three parts:

  • Lighthouse Laboratory
  • a coordination and response centre
  • the Innovation Lab.

In the Innovation Lab, we are a new team of 10 with backgrounds ranging from research and development, to the commercial sector. Our broad aims are to bring together industry, academia and the NHS, in partnerships that will accelerate the development and adoption of next generation diagnostics.

We have also established a biobank of COVID samples to enable industry and researchers to access valuable resource for testing. All of this is with the aim of future proofing the diagnostic landscape of the country, to ensure that we have the best possible testing tools to fight any future pandemic.


You work collaboratively with the NHS, private sector, universities and industry partners to innovate and develop new approaches and next stage of research. How does this work?

Innovation can come from anywhere so we work across sectors to try and minimise development times and maximise impact. We feel that we have an open door approach, which can help industry to get better access to the NHS. In creating the Innovation Lab, the NHS has built a specialist resource with which industry can properly engage and innovation can flow in and out.


You have a number of projects already underway, can you tell us more?

We have an ever expanding list of projects supporting or evaluating new diagnostics. We have been involved in several national programmes evaluating the performance of rapid tests for COVID which could be used outside of a laboratory. We are also supplying samples to a number of companies to facilitate the development of their diagnostic tests.

We also have some early stage R&D projects which will hopefully help our partners raise investment and get to the next stage in their development.


Can you tell us about any recent progress in your research and what this could mean for the future?

COVID has really highlighted the need for high quality diagnostics, which are available to all.

We have had the privilege to be able to assess some cutting edge rapid diagnostic test and technology, which have potential to widen and simplify access to testing and reduce turnaround times. We continue to work with developers to make the best use of these technologies now.

Ultimately we want to create a positive legacy which sees continual improvement across all types of diagnostics.


8 members out of your team of 10 are women. Why do you think it is important to celebrate their achievements?

We have such a fantastic team here and Newcastle Hospitals is renowned for valuing equality and diversity. There are so many talented women working in scientific roles and we need to show that properly, to ensure everyone is properly recognised and visible. It is important to highlight the amazing things that science can achieve and that women have achieved, so barriers can keep being knocked down.


Newcastle Helix fosters collaboration and innovation between businesses, researchers, and scientists. How has being based in The Biosphere supported your work?

The Biosphere is a fantastic facility and Newcastle Helix is such a well thought out campus.

We are in the heart of the city and only a few minutes from our key partners, Newcastle University and Newcastle Hospitals. Not only that but we are surrounded by biotechnology companies. Even with the restrictions of the pandemic we have been able to connect locally through The Biosphere and this will only increase as restrictions are lifted.


Find out more

For more information and updates from the Innovation Lab team, visit their LinkedIn page


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