06 September 2023

Under The Microscope: Episode 3 – North East Innovation Lab

Press - the lab team in the state-of-the-art lab

In the third edition of Under the Microscope, Dr Caroline Wilson introduces us to the team at the North East Innovation Lab (NEIL) and explains about her new role as the lab’s commercial business manager.

Congratulations on your role Caroline.  Can you tell me about yourself and your new role?

I’m one of the founding members of the North East Innovation Lab team.  For the last two and a half years I have worked as a principal scientist, leading a range of projects focused on evaluating and assessing new technologies and diagnostic assays.

Prior to joining the innovation lab, I studied medical microbiology and immunology at Newcastle University. I’ve now worked in scientific research for over twenty years working on a broad range of molecular and immunological projects including infectious and autoimmune diseases, liver disease and tumour immunology.

When our colleague, and former commercial manager, Melanie Shield, was promoted to work as a senior business manager in the Commercial Enterprise Team, I started thinking about the transferable skills I have and how fantastic it would be to take a new direction but still with this wonderful team.

In my new role, I work closely with the lab’s team of scientists leading our commercial and business development activities, including managing new enquiries and converting leads into costed, contracted projects.

I work to identify client requirements, establish good relationships, develop service agreements and to market the lab.

Tell me about the North East Innovation Lab

The North East Innovation Lab is part of The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and supports and accelerates the development of cutting-edge diagnostic tests.

We were originally created to accelerate the development or Covid tests, however we are now working on a wider range of tests and technologies to help diagnose and guide treatment for a range of conditions including infectious diseases and cancer.

Based in the Biosphere, part of the Newcastle Helix life sciences quarter, we work to help organisation who may be at any stage of developing a new diagnostic test by providing high quality diagnostic evaluation and validation services, and robust performance testing

we provide evidence to support the independent evaluation and validation necessary to move new tests to the next stage of their development, or to launch to market for mainstream use.

Our lab houses cutting-edge technology and along with our sister lab Novopath we have a  large HTA approved biobank of well-characterised clinical fluid and tissue samples and their associated meta data, to facilitate a range of research and testing requirements. Bespoke requests can be met with prospective sample collection provided by our research nurse and hospital colleagues.

Our team offers a range of specialist expertise, including molecular biologists, life scientists, methodologists, and clinical research nurses.

Being part of Newcastle Hospitals gives us close working with hospital teams and departments. This enables us to carry out useability studies to ascertain whether a diagnostic test works in the way that was intended, with the appropriate user for example a consultant, nurse, or the patient themselves, using the test at one of our hospital sites.We can also link with the patient recruitment centre to carry out these studies with specifically recruited research participants.

What companies does NEIL work with?

Since launching in January 2021, we have engaged with over 100 test developers from across the globe from the USA to Australia, the UK to China and worked with national and international companies to evaluate their diagnostics and develop scientific testing protocols.

We work with regulators, manufacturers, university spin outs, SMEs, universities, and industry to support the development of their tests.

How do companies engage with you and what is the process when they do?

We have an open-door policy and we’re interested in speaking to any company – no matter what size, or stage of their test development – who may require clinical samples, or expertise in performance testing evaluation and validation.

I provide a dedicated point of contact for clients and commercial partners looking to engage the services of the lab. I can be contacted directly by email or via the enquiries form.

You can read more about our projects here.

How do you work with Diagnostics North East?

We work closely with DxNE as part of the diagnostic innovation pathway for the north east and north Cumbria.

This offers our clients a cohesive pathway for their diagnostic research and development and strengthens this way of working with our partners and externally when we are selling our services to other parts of the country.

What excites you about your new role?

It’s exciting and fulfilling to work in such a fast-paced environment, devising methodologies and tests to help our clients bring their diagnostic products to market.

Each project is unique and we’re in a perfect position to provide tailored evaluation and validation, either using clinical samples held on our biobank or collected directly from patients, to inform development and launch into mainstream use, making a huge difference to patients.

What are the main challenges?

As we continue to grow our services, one of the challenges is expanding our visibility so that we can establish ourselves in new markets nationally and internationally.

What is next for NEIL?

We’re keen to keep expanding our services to make them as responsive to what our clients and partners in the NHS, academia and industry need to support their research and diagnostic development.

We’re strengthening our offer with closer working with our sister lab Novopath, now co-located next door to us in purpose built facilities in the Biosphere

We can offer some integrated services with close working alongside our colleagues in hospital teams and departments to ultimately improve diagnosis and inform treatments for patients.

How can you be contacted?

There’s a number of ways people can make contact with us, by dropping us an email or giving us a call, or via our contact form on the web page.

You can also meet us in person at forthcoming conferences.  We are going to be exhibiting with Novopath at the MedConnect North conference in October, and at the  BioNow Oncology & Precision Medicine in November. Please drop by our stand to talk more about our work.