The new Covid-19 Rosalind Franklin laboratory was officially opened by the Health Secretary yesterday. Almost 300,000 Covid-19 tests have already been processed at the megalab in its opening weeks as part of the NHS Test and Trace network.
The world-leading science and infrastructure and genomic sequencing capabilities, are expected to play a critical role in the government’s ongoing response to the virus.
Over 500 staff are already employed at the lab in Leamington Spa, with more than 500 anticipated to join in the near future. Around 60% of the staff hired so far live within 30 miles of the site, which is predicted to increase, and be recognised as a major local employer. Up to 1,500 staff in total are projected to fill positions once the lab is fully staffed.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) Jenny Harries, met with staff, and saw the capabilities of the testing technology, including top of the range robotics - at the Rosalind Franklin laboratory which opened on 13 July.
Mr Javid said: “The new Rosalind Franklin laboratory is bringing together some of the world’s leading scientists and large scale, state-of-the-art testing infrastructure under one roof.
“Along with vaccinations, regular testing is playing an integral role in helping us manage this virus and will help ensure we are prepared for future pandemics. This megalab will soon be helping us not only process tests, but also detect the kind of variants that threaten our progress in living with Covid-19.
“The laboratory is also a huge boost for the local area creating employment opportunities and inspiring a new generation into careers in science and technology.”
It will be the biggest of its kind in the UK, rolling out pioneering new genotype assay testing in the coming months. This is thought to help scientists identify known variants of concern quickly, as well as genome sequencing to identify new mutations. This technology has already helped the UK prevent outbreaks as restrictions have been eased, such as deploying surge testing.
The laboratory is named in honour of Rosalind Franklin, who significantly contributed towards the current understanding of RNA sequencing, which is now a major tool in the efforts to combat variants. It hopes to create and upskill scientists through a programme of training, working closely with universities, to inspire a new generation to choose a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
The first cohort of PhD students from the University of Warwick have started their placements at the lab as data scientists and bioscience leads, helping them develop experience with Covid-19 testing.
Chief Executive of the UKHSA, Jenny Harries, said: “The newly established UK Health Security Agency has been formed to help protect the UK not only against Covid-19, but from the health threats and pandemics of the future.
“This megalab is going to be right at the heart of our present and future battles against national health threats and it is already arming our exceptional scientists with the right testing and genomics infrastructure to manage the spread of Covid-19.”