DxNE Collaborators - John Tyson

John Tyson

Interview with John Tyson, Head of Innovation Laboratory at Integrated Covid Hub North East

What is your background and how did you get to working in diagnostics?

I have a background in research, specifically genetics. I was studying when the first human genome was published and followed the subsequent advances in DNA sequencing. I later took a post doc position at the Centre for Life hoping it would get me closer to projects that could make a difference to health. The team I joined had just shown the protective effects of aspirin in hereditary bowel cancer after more than a decade of work. It was from there that I joined, what was then, a small company developing diagnostic tests, specifically for use in low resource settings. I worked there for 8 years before taking up my role at the Innovation Lab

Is there anything you wish you learned sooner?

That most problems, in science and elsewhere, are more complicated than they first appear. It’s tempting to be reductive but it helps to think more broadly and without bias.

What does your job entail and what have you found the most surprising aspect?

I lead the Innovation Lab, part of Newcastle Hospitals. We are a team of ten people working to link academia, industry and healthcare to accelerate innovation in diagnostics. We maintain a large biobank of samples and provide service and support to those developing new diagnostics. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much of a demand there has been for our services.

What are the challenges and how do you deal with that?

Probably navigating the legal, regulatory and ethical frameworks around the work that we do. Thankfully we are part of an NHS Trust which has a strong focus on research and a good understanding of commercial engagement. There seems to be always someone to turn to for help or advice.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

That we offer a meaningful service, the benefits of which can be seen almost as soon as you finish the work; whether it’s returning partners or products coming to the market. Also there aren’t many other places around offering the kinds of services we do, which is exciting.

What could collaborators expect of your service?

I like to think we offer an open door to collaborators; we speak to almost everyone who engages with us, find out about them, and see if we can help with their needs. We are a dedicated team so we are able to respond quickly to new projects. Previously we’ve gone from initial call through to contracting and delivering the work in a week.

How is patient benefit built in?

I think we can all benefit from improvements in diagnostics. Whether that be cheaper, faster or more accurate tests, more complex tests or simply widening access to tests.  Or it could be better surveillance, better screening the list goes on. Diagnostics underpins a lot of decision making, not only by healthcare professionals but more and more so by ourselves as we try to lead longer healthier lives.

Can you give an insight into the wider team and what they might be up to on any given day?

The team are fantastic. We manage multiple projects at the same time, some internal others for external partners. So there is a lot of balancing to do and a lot of teamwork.  The clinical team will be out recruiting patients or back at the office keeping records and planning future studies. A lot of time is spent in the lab, maintaining our biobank and evaluating diagnostics devices.

What studies have you been working on recently?

We have been supporting a lot of new COVID testing devices, some lateral flow tests and some PCR based.  We provide clinical samples so these new devices can be evaluated. We work with some very small companies who are in the early stages of development but also very large companies. We have been looking at pathogen surveillance systems, either sampling air or wastewater. And we are now starting to work outside of COVID with projects in oncology and microbial identification.

Plans away from work?

Mainly just to spend time with the family while they are still young and willing to spend time with me.

This interview was conducted online by Michelle O’Rourke, Diagnostics North East Manager and Industry Liaison for the partnership. If you’d like to find out more about the work of the Integrated Covid Hub North East (ICHNE) Innovation Lab and how to get in touch, please visit the website here.