Opening at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lancaster’s new £41m Health Innovation Campus became even more relevant in its mission as a catalyst for the region in solving major global health challenges.
Although global pandemics would certainly not have been the focus when the new development at the north end of the campus was initially discussed almost a decade ago, as those first traumatic months of lockdown passed by in Spring 2020 it soon became clear the campus would have a unique role to play in the unfolding disaster.
As construction work was completed in June, the new Health Innovation One building was able to open to allow medical students to continue their studies in case they were required on the frontline of the UK’s COVID-19 response. And as life-saving vaccinations became available in the UK, local NHS partners knew where to come when they required a facility from which to run a huge vaccine drive in the region.
Health Innovation Campus Partnership Development Manager, Glyn Jones, said: “We already had a close working relationship with Lancaster Medical Practice so when they needed a large space with plenty of parking to deliver a vaccination programme, we were happy to help them. Some 64,412 vaccinations were eventually administered to residents of North Lancashire from our new building.”
Since then, the new campus has continued to deliver on its mission to support projects which could have a significant global impact in the fight against COVID-19, including:
· Development of a new needle-free intranasal Covid-19 vaccine through a collaboration between Lancaster University’s Molecular Virologist Professor Muhammad Munir, and British biomedical firm ViraCorp
· Work to create a new handheld device using nasal or saliva samples to deliver accurate COVID-19 diagnoses in seconds
Away from the pandemic, the Health Innovation Campus team has also supported the establishment of a regional cancer task force of experts for a major investigation into the prevalence of cancer in the region, to help improve early detection and save lives. Led by Lancaster Medical School academic, Dr Luigi Sedda, the project is funded by North West Cancer Research, a charity which established a new northern office in the Health Innovation One building almost as soon as it opened its doors.
Health Innovation One is an 80,000 square-foot collaboration hub which provides a home for Lancaster Medical School and the University’s Division of Health Research, as well as a co-location space for partner organisations and event/meeting facilities. It is part of the wider 350,000 square foot Health Innovation Campus.
At the heart of the campus’ work is population health and collaboration. It provides a collaborative space where the University and external partners (including NHS, commercial businesses and the local population) can tackle the wider determinants of health, leading to long-term reductions in NHS pressures by helping people live healthier lives and take a personal interest in their own health outcomes.
As Glyn adds: “If we can all behave better now in the way we look after our health, pressure on the NHS will be less.”
The campus promotes collaboration and knowledge exchange. The theory is that an idea pioneered by a Lancaster University academic can, for example, be nurtured and supported by the disparate group of stakeholders tapping into the campus’ network, known as the #HICommunity, to create a successful project with a tangible outcome - perhaps a group of patients in Blackpool or Fleetwood experiencing better health.
The campus, and Lancaster in general, is well positioned geographically to carry out pilots which can easily make comparisons on rural/urban and seaside/inland health lines. It also hosts the Lancaster Medical School with an eight-bed mock-up of a hospital ward and simulation room which students use for some of their practical work. Through its diverse cohort of expert academic staff, it ensures a constant presence of clinical and biomedical expertise is on site.
Another key piece of the jigsaw for people approaching the campus’ team with a potential health solution is access to expertise from a wide range of different fields covered at Lancaster University. This allows people to use the campus as a gateway to the University, to visit different faculties and receive relevant input which may help them turn an idea into a commercial reality. One example saw a would-be entrepreneur with an idea for an orthopaedic leg stretcher gain useful feedback through the team, not only from medical experts but also from the engineering department.
The campus also has a European Regional Development Fund-backed project supporting business innovation, which has already worked with more than 200 health-related SMEs in Lancashire to assist them with their innovation strategy.
Office and hot desking space is available for external partners. Five organisations have already chosen to base themselves in Health Innovation One. These include the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), North West Cancer Research, ClearTrace infection control company, safety device developer ChipTech and medical device manufacturer AmDel.
Glyn sees his role as helping create a hub dedicated to encouraging people with ideas, and promoting the concept of the interconnections within and between communities.
The Health Innovation Campus is a community he adds. “It’s about transformation. Innovation can be a distraction, but real change is much more difficult and needs support to see it through.”
If you would like to speak to the Health Innovation Campus team about a potential collaboration, email HIC@lancaster.ac.ukBack to News