• Robotic labs to supercharge UK infection research activities
    Professor Janet Hemingway
  • Work being conducted at some of LSTM's R&D labs.

Research News

Robotic labs to supercharge UK infection research activities

May 07 2024

The Infection Innovation Consortium iiCON, led by Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), has received a £10 million UK government investment to develop large Category Three robotic laboratories capable of handling a range of dangerous and deadly pathogens. The award is part of the Liverpool City Region Life Sciences Investment Zone plans to supercharge the sector. Overall, the Investment Zone plans to create 8,000 new jobs and potentially deliver £800m of public and private investment over 10 years.

Professor Janet Hemingway, founding director of iiCON commented: “As a consortium, iiCON brings together leading UK organisations in infection R&D – including the world-renowned expertise and facilities at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. This combined capability and focus on co-innovation has enabled the consortium to secure funding to support the progression of this innovative development.”

The new labs, which will be located in the Liverpool Life Sciences Accelerator Building in the city’s investment zone, are expected to complete in two years. “The project will involve the refurbishment and upgrade of existing Category 2 laboratories to validated and operational Category 3 containment level laboratories. LSTM has the largest number of Category 3 laboratories in the North West and we already work with a wide range of pathogens in these laboratories. In our new labs, we will be operating with the same pathogens, in an expanded highly-secure facility.”

Expanding further on the build programme Professor Hemingway told International Labmate “We will be going out to tender for a specialist main contractor and design consultants later this year, alongside a specialist technical team to specify and design the technology within the facility. We are also building a specialist team to run and manage the technology within the labs post-completion and expect this to create around 80 to 100 new posts.

“As far as we are aware, this will be the first Category Three Robotic laboratory in the UK, so the design process will involve specifying and developing bespoke technological solutions for our enhanced requirements. We will also be looking at technology used in existing Category 2 robotic laboratories to explore what modifications would be needed to implement this technology in a Category 3 setting.

“We are developing a strategic working group with industry leaders who currently operate Category 2 robotic laboratories. This will enable mutual knowledge sharing of both past experience and our current learnings as we design and set up this facility – helping to facilitate best practice and support wider industry progression and innovation in this space.”

When operational, the new facilities will enable iiCON to increase the commercialisation of two of its R&D platforms led by LSTM: Organoids and its Bio-Actives library which together have the potential to shape the next generation of transformative novel antimicrobial products and therapies.

In addition, and also as part of the Investment Zone plans, iiCON and LSTM will develop RIBA Stage 2 plans for a new facility alongside Pembroke House, a research and development, innovation and education hub in Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter.  This specialist biotech and Category 3 laboratory space, will provide increased specialist biotech and high-containment Category Three laboratories to house the expansion of iiCON’s existing R&D platforms.

“From the outset, iiCON was structured to develop innovative R&D platforms using cutting-edge technology and approaches that would allow companies to bring their products through to market more effectively,” Professor Hemingway said.

“We’re pleased to have secured this important funding as part of the Liverpool City Region Life Sciences Investment Zone programme. This funding is an important next step which will enable us to continue to develop and expand our operational pipeline - opening out our highly specialist offering to industry partners of all sizes to support their innovation and save and improve lives worldwide.

“Over the next five to ten years, we anticipate significant growth in the numbers of direct high-level jobs associated with the intermediate and long-term developments outlined in the prospectus, alongside support for local business growth in this area.

“As a place-based initiative, our location in the heart of the Liverpool City Region’s thriving health and life sciences ecosystem has been key to the success of the programme. The region has world-leading capability in drug discovery, diagnostics, clinical trials, & vaccine manufacturing capability within one of Europe’s largest biopharmaceutical manufacturing clusters and the plans laid out in the Investment Zone prospectus speak to the scale of the ambition within the region.”

Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, said: “With up to £800m of investment and thousands of quality, high skilled jobs on offer, the Liverpool City Region Innovation Zone is an important tool in our arsenal to position our area at the head of UK science and innovation.

“But in the Liverpool City Region, we’re proud to do things differently. Throughout the development of our Innovation Zone, I have been clear that any investment in our area must go further than purely financial incentives. I want to use our status as a force for good, to connect our residents up to secure, well-paid jobs and training opportunities and attract transformational investment into our communities.

“Becoming an innovation superpower is a lofty ambition – but I firmly believe that, if anywhere has the potential to achieve it, then it is the Liverpool City Region.”

More information online

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