Guest Blog|A reflection on the Lighthouse Lab journey so far

AUTHOR: Kath Mackay, Managing Director, Alderley Park

Last month, UK government approached Medicines Discovery Catapult, based at Alderley Park, to coordinate the establishment of the national megalabs for the testing of COVID-19. The concept was to use the Thermofisher developed tag path RT PCR kit and to do that at scale across the UK in three separate locations; Alderley Park, Milton Keynes and Glasgow.

Six weeks on from the initial phone call, and with Phase 1 and 2 of the labs up and running at Alderley Park we caught up with Chris Molloy, CEO of Medicines Discovery Catapult to reflect on the achievements and challenges so far.

‘Within days of getting the call from UK government, we were already working with the Bruntwood SciTech team at Alderley Park to develop what would become one of three national megalabs - we had 50m cranes moving large pieces of equipment around and it was extraordinary how quickly that was pulled together.’

At Alderley Park we have the infrastructure and network of expertise that the Medicines Discovery Catapult needed to launch this critical facility. The Bruntwood SciTech team were required to design and deliver the facilities in a completely new way and we were able to provide a range of expertise from project management, construction and operations, to scientific and health and safety support in order to effectively respond to this vital national need. 

Chris also spoke about how collaboration was key to this process. ‘Alongside the development of the facility, we have rapidly commissioned equipment, trained people and worked closely with the NHS, Public Health England and academia, including the University of Manchester to validate experiments, review data and align with NHS data. Within just 3 weeks and 3 days we were screening the first clinical sample at the Park.’

Molloy expressed the gratitude that he personally and the whole network has to those that have contributed not just their skills or time, but their instrumentation from across the nation to make the Lighthouse Labs possible. 

‘We’ve collected hundreds of instruments from around the country including 7,500 donated PCR readers - they’ve arrived in black cabs, they've arrived in buses, in army vans, and in navy vans - they’ve turned up in almost every form of transport possible. The concept of giving has been one of the most humbling things in putting this network together and the spirit of collaboration has been apparent throughout.

The Lighthouse Lab network has been the largest diagnostics activity ever conceived and done within the UK. We now have over 80 people at the Alderley Park lab and we wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the tidal wave of volunteers that have come forward. We continue to rely on this army of skilled volunteers - scientists who are comfortable and competent in a Class II environment and those who are comfortable and competent in a molecular biology environment.

The Lighthouse Labs is an unprecedented national programme, relying on the kindness, the commitment and the purpose of the UK in delivering something which it has never tried to do before, and is now doing.’

Alderley Park is proud to be home to one of the three national Lighthouse Labs and to have achieved the opening of this facility at such scale and pace. To be able to send tens of thousands of people back to work on the frontline really will make a difference in the fight against Covid-19 and it wouldn’t have been achieved without true collaboration. Chris Molloy’s closing remarks really summed this up for us, ‘now, you walk into the Lighthouse Lab at Alderley Park and see everyone from diverse organisations and various sectors of the drug discovery community working together as one Lighthouse Lab team; it’s utterly humbling.’