The award of £18.6m of UK government funding to progress new research into infectious diseases is a significant moment for the Liverpool City Region’s health & life sciences economy.
Awarded to a consortium led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), the funding will support a five-year project to create eight specialist research platforms for infectious diseases therapeutics.
In the context of COVID-19, its aims – to fast-track the discovery, development and evaluation of new treatments – are perhaps more profound than ever. But as another component in the city region’s thriving health & life science ecosystem, it has much broader significance.
Here are three reasons why this is an important development:
1. It’s unique…
UK Research & Innovation’s (UKRI) Strength in Places Fund is a highly competitive scheme.
The successful LSTM-led project is unique in the field of projects awarded funding in this wave. Of the seven successful bids, this is not only the sole project in the North of England but also the only one focused on infectious disease.
As such, it’s a major addition to the city region’s credentials as a globally important location for the development, testing and manufacture of treatments for infectious diseases.
2. It is already attracting additional investment – with potential for much more…
In addition to the Strength in Places Fund grant, the consortium – led by LSTM’s formidable Professor Janet Hemingway – has already generated guarantees of around £90m for pilot projects eager to use the new R&D platforms.
This is because those platforms – a mixture of virtual and physical assets – will operate on an open-access model, enabling organisations outside of the consortium to use them and easily access world-leading expertise and facilities to pioneer their own products and therapeutics.
The addition of new cutting-edge resources will be significant pull-factor for global pharma businesses seeking new resources and avenues for R&D and smaller innovation businesses looking to upscale their products and approaches.
It’s a model that already has precedent in the city region. The Materials Innovation Factory – jointly funded and operated by the University of Liverpool and Unilever – has been providing open access to state-of-the-art technology and lab facilities for materials chemistry since 2018, attracting major companies and scale-ups alike.
3. It is further recognition of LCR’s status as a globally important destination for innovation
UKRI takes a place-based approach to the funding awarded under the Strength in Places Fund. Successful projects are those that build on established regional R&D strengths to drive growth and assist UK clusters to become internationally competitive.
This funding is therefore both recognition and confidence in LCR‘s status as a leading hub of infectious diseases research which, when combined with Cheshire and Warrington, represents the largest national concentration of this expertise in Britain.
The platforms created through this project will make a valuable addition to an established ecosystem of world-class science, expertise and facilities. It’s an eco-system rooted in collaboration between industry, academia, and the NHS, which has equipped the city region with all of the component parts necessary to research, develop, test and manufacture new treatments.
That’s why we are already a test bed for new diagnostic technology and evaluation trials for COVID-19. Access to world-leading expertise and one of the UK’s largest concentrations of highly secure Category 3 containment facilities in laboratories at LSTM and the University of Liverpool, has enabled the city region to be at the vanguard of new studies exploring potential treatments for the current pandemic and future ones like it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought efforts to combat infectious diseases into sharp focus. The Liverpool City Region’s growth into a first choice location for global investment in infection research and development will bring more high-quality jobs, economic value and, crucially, enable the city region to continue to leverage its significant healthcare expertise to tackle the world’s most serious public health challenges and improve lives across the globe.
Hannah Randles is Health and Life Sciences Champion at Growth Platform, Liverpool City Region’s Growth Company.