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Consistency in innovation: how companies from across the Bruntwood SciTech network are supporting the fight against Covid-19

Lighthouse labs at Alderley Park

The COVID-19 crisis has already had a global impact, in particular the way businesses operate. The world is rapidly attempting to find solutions to the myriad of challenges caused by the COVID-19 crisis, and nowhere else is this more true than across the Bruntwood SciTech network.

Life science and tech businesses across Manchester, Cheshire, Birmingham and Leeds are shifting and refocusing their priorities in order to help the national effort in the fight against the pandemic.

Firstly, Alderley Park-based Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) were approached by the UK government to coordinate the establishment of the national megalabs for testing COVID-19. Within 3 weeks, the Medicines Discovery Catapult had established one of three national ‘Lighthouse Lab’ testing centres which together have created the biggest network of diagnostic testing facilities in British history.

Now the laboratory is home to over 80 scientists and volunteers working around the clock to test samples and enable thousands of NHS and key workers to return to the frontline.

At Citylabs, part of the UK’s largest NHS Trust - Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust campus, businesses have been using their world-class facilities to manufacture COVID-19 tests. International molecular diagnostics company, Yourgene Health signed a contract with Novacyt - a specialist in clinical diagnostics, to support the production of tests, as well as expanding its lab capabilities to support the surrounding NHS Trust hospitals.

Collaborations have also really come to the fore over the last few weeks; at Alderley Park Stream Bio are collaborating with MIP Diagnostics on a rapid diagnostic and mass screening test for COVID-19, whilst at Manchester Science Park, global molecular diagnostics company QIAGEN, in partnership with fellow campus member Affinity Biomarker Solutions and the University of Manchester have been supporting patient testing on high-throughput automation platforms; allowing labs to perform many and continuous PCR-based tests while continuing to research and create new commercial tests for patients who need them urgently.

The ‘research’ phase of the government’s action plan aims to better understand the virus, Alderley Park-based Peak Proteins is supporting the race for treatments, working closely with Medicines Discovery Catapult and Retrogenix as they collaborate to identify target receptors for COVID-19, further driving the understanding of the virus.

But it’s not just life science companies that have been contributing to the fight against the pandemic. Many digital and tech businesses from across the Bruntwood SciTech network have been adapting and utilising their online platforms and tech for good. Supporting the government’s social distancing goals, Manchester Science Park-based PlaceDashboard is using its shopper behaviour analysis platform to measure social distancing by tracking GPS location data captured from mobile phones.

According to a series of heatmaps, they reported that the amount of people visiting Manchester city centre fell by 70% from the first two weeks of March to the second two weeks after restrictions on movement were brought in - vital information to help contain the spread.

Containing the virus has meant an altered way of living for all of us. With Public Health England and the Department of Education closing many schools, colleges and universities, for the majority homeschooling has now become the norm and it's been the edtech sector’s time to shine. Northcoders, who are based at both Circle Square and Platform in Leeds, have launched a new eight-week full-time and fully remote course to teach people how to code from home, pivoting their businesses from physical to online virtual learning. 

Oxbridge, based at Innovation Birmingham, who deliver home learning courses have seen a significant uptake and have released a £60,000 bursary for people to access the courses; whilst we’ve teamed up with DiceyTech, from Manchester Science Park, to launch ‘STEM Factor’ - a series of fun STEM based challenges and activities to keep children and families entertained during the lockdown.

Dicey Tech have also been supporting the NHS in their call for more PPE, using their 3D printing facilities to create vital face shields for NHS workers; as have Innovation Birmingham-based Barclays Eagle Labs and Energym using their machines around the clock to produce as many as possible. At Alderley Park, CRUK and Blueberry Therapeutics have also been producing much needed PPE.

What’s more, our Citylabs team have been helping the MFT Charity to store, package and deliver care packages for frontline NHS workers, with over £500,000 worth of goods being donated to the cause from UK businesses keen to help. 

At Bruntwood SciTech, we’re proud to enable and facilitate collaboration; supporting some of the UK’s most innovative minds who are adapting and coming up with new ideas everyday to support the fight against COVID-19. From testing to tech, one thing is consistent during these ever changing times: innovation continues.


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