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May 2020

How an investment for the future is helping tackle Covid-19 today

Our partnership with Bruntwood has helped create a UK network of innovation districts, dedicated to driving the growth of the science and technology sector. Launched in 2018, the Bruntwood SciTech network includes sites in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Cheshire and, the newest, Liverpool. Alderley Park, in Cheshire, has recently become the home of one of the government’s three national ‘Mega Labs’ to facilitate mass testing for Covid-19

Alderley Park

As part of our Future Cities business, we invest in renewable energy, digital infrastructure and urban projects, which are socially as well as economically beneficial, using long-term capital to create a better world.

Part of Future Cities, Bruntwood SciTech provides environments and ecosystems to support companies in the science and technology sector to form, collaborate, scale and grow, creating high-value jobs for the UK economy.

Part of Bruntwood SciTech, the Mereside Life Science Campus at Alderley Park in Cheshire has been making the headlines over the past month as the second of the government’s coronavirus ‘Lighthouse Labs’ to become fully operational, with ambitions to increase testing capacity to up to 100,000 samples each day.

Alderley Park is home to the UK’s largest single-site life science campus, with particular expertise in areas such as cancer, drug discovery, diagnostics, infection and anti-microbial resistance. The site is host to 200 organisations, from start-ups like Apconix, a toxicology company which researches the safety of drugs as they approach the market, to national institutes such as the Manchester division of Cancer Research UK, and even multi-nationals like Evotec, a drug discovery and development company with additional sites in Europe and the US.

The government’s three labs – in Alderley Park, Milton Keynes and Glasgow – are being run through a partnership between the Department of Health and Social Care, the UK Biocentre, the University of Glasgow and Medicines Discovery Catapult, a UK Research and Innovation-funded medicine research centre based at Alderley Park and also responsible for coordinating the new national laboratory network. Because of the wealth of expertise at Alderley Park, many of the employees are also volunteering in the testing labs.

Dr Kath Mackay
“These organisations are all working on a health challenge, and we will see the payback of these investments in the years to come. But with Covid-19, we’re seeing the benefit now”
Dr Kath Mackay,
Managing Director, Bruntwood SciTech – Alderley Park

“It was under three weeks from having a speculative conversation with the CEO of Medicines Discovery Catapult to developing the facility and getting patient samples in,” explains Dr Kath Mackay, Managing Director, Bruntwood SciTech – Alderley Park.

In those two-and-a-half weeks, a lot needed to happen, from working out where the 30,000 square-foot laboratory would be set up to collaborating closely with the site’s existing construction and development teams before the lab was handed over to Medicines Catapult Discovery to begin testing. “We had to consider the pressure on the construction industry to deliver in trying circumstances. We had to think about how we would get equipment into the site and off it again, and the army has played an important role in that,” explains Dr Mackay. “Given that we’ve got organisations on site working in infection and disease, and who are receiving patient samples on a daily basis, it was thinking about how we could scale up that existing capability quickly to become a Lighthouse Lab.”

The lab is carrying out antigen tests from swabs taken at drive-through testing centres around the UK and then sent to the site. They are tested using equipment that has largely been donated from UK universities, such as PCR machines, which amplify the genetic material. “The antigen tests look at whether the virus is present in the samples by detecting the presence of some genetic material. Because the material is in quite small supply in the sample, this is isolated and then amplified to a sufficient level that it can be detected,” explains Dr Mackay.

If ever there was an example of why investing in life science and healthcare is so high on our agenda, this is it.

“In light of current world events, a spotlight is being shone on the life science sector; both in terms of how the UK can rise to meet the challenges of combating Covid-19 and as a sector ripe for further investment. Established players, such as Bruntwood SciTech, bring together forward-thinking investors with leading universities, the NHS and world-class research facilities, ensuring the UK remains a centre of excellence in this space,” says John Cummins, Managing Director of Future Cities for Legal & General.

Never has this been more vital; allowing the UK to rise to tackle the growing crisis head on, whilst supporting regional economic growth and ensuring the UK economy is prepared to meet future threats”

John Cummins,
Managing Director of Future Cities, Legal & General

“Never has this been more vital; allowing the UK to rise to tackle the growing crisis head on, whilst supporting regional economic growth and ensuring the UK economy is prepared to meet future threats,” Cummins continues. “As a patient investor with diverse and long-term capital sources, we are uniquely placed to deploy further investment, activating the appropriate capital needed to support both long- and short-term growth, utilising our broad network of partnerships.”

The focus might be long-term investment, but that doesn’t mean society won’t reap the benefits today.

“These organisations are all working on a health challenge, and we will see the payback of these investments in the years to come. But with Covid-19, we’re seeing the benefit now,” says Dr Mackay. And she isn’t just referring to the testing of frontline staff, but the acceleration of the search for treatments by Peak Proteins, the development of a rapid diagnostic and mass screening test by Stream Bio and MIP Diagnostics, the 3D printing of PPE for NHS workers by Dicey Tech and the development of a social distancing tracker by PlaceDashboard – all of which is happening at locations across the Bruntwood SciTech network.

It’s something that Dr Mackay is, quite rightly, incredibly proud of. “On the first day the site was live, we were told how many samples were being processed and how many frontline workers were able to go back into the wards that day. It was a fantastic feeling. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people. It’s all about the support for our NHS, and knowing that we were able to play an incredibly small part in this makes me incredibly proud. And it’s the long-term investment in life sciences, one of the pillars of the UK economy, through both Bruntwood and Legal & General that has got us here.”

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