Government invests £10m in new robotic AI labs for iiCON

Prof Janet Hemingway

A £10m government investment will provide new robotic AI laboratories at Liverpool MedTech organisation, iiCON.

Activity at Infection Innovation Consortium: iiCON, led by Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), will develop large Category Three robotic laboratories capable of handling a range of dangerous and deadly pathogens.

The award is part of the Liverpool City Region Life Sciences Investment Zone plans, unveiled today (March 12), to supercharge the sector.

Overall, the Investment Zone plans to create 8,000 jobs and potentially deliver £800m of public and private investment over 10 years.

The funding will support the development of high-containment laboratories based at LSTM fitted with state-of-the-art robotics, AI, and liquid handling equipment. The new facility will be completed in the next two years and will support iiCON’s ongoing activity in propelling innovative infection R&D.

Led by LSTM with core partners LifeArc, Unilever, Evotec, Liverpool University Hospitals Foundation Trust, University of Liverpool, and Infex Therapeutics, iiCON brings together industry, academia, and clinicians to accelerate the discovery and development of new products for infectious diseases.

The £260m consortium launched in 2020 with £18.6m in funding from UK Research & Innovation’s flagship Strength in Places programme. It works with more than 800 companies worldwide and has already created in excess of 560 jobs and supported around 36 new products to market, saving and improving thousands of lives.

The new laboratories will enable iiCON to increase the commercialisation of two of its innovative R&D platforms, led by LSTM: Organoids and its Bio-Actives Library. The new facility will support cutting-edge industry innovation and streamline and expand activity across the two platforms to drive forward new treatments and products – opening this highly specialised offering to a larger range of companies nationally and internationally.

Research using human organoids is at the cutting-edge of infection R&D and offers new ways of shaping treatments and products to respond to some of the most challenging and deadly infections, while the Bio-Actives Library is designed to drive innovation and support companies of all sizes on the discovery journey.
Working at the vanguard of life sciences technology, these approaches have potential to shape the next generation of transformative novel antimicrobial products and therapies.

As part of the Investment Zone plans, iiCON and LSTM will also develop RIBA Stage 2 plans for a new facility in Liverpool which will provide increased specialist biotech and high-containment Category Three laboratories to house the expansion of iiCON’s existing R&D platforms.

Prof Janet Hemingway, founding director of iiCON, said: “From the outset, iiCON was structured to develop innovative R&D platforms using cutting-edge technology and approaches that would allow companies to bring their products through to market more effectively.

“We’re pleased to have secured this important funding as part of the Liverpool City Region Life Sciences Investment Zone programme. This funding is an important next step which will enable us to continue to develop and expand our operational pipeline – opening out our highly specialist offering to industry partners of all sizes to support their innovation and save and improve lives worldwide.”

She added: “Over the next five to 10 years, we anticipate significant growth in the numbers of direct high level jobs associated with the intermediate and long term developments outlined in the prospectus, alongside support for local business growth in this area.

“As a place-based initiative, our location in the heart of the Liverpool City Region’s thriving health and life sciences ecosystem has been key to the success of the programme. The region has world leading capability in drug discovery, diagnostics, clinical trials and vaccine manufacturing capability within one of Europe’s largest biopharmaceutical manufacturing clusters and the plans laid out in the Investment Zone prospectus speak to the scale of the ambition within the region.”

Prof Hemingway was named Liverpool City Region Leader of the Year at the 2023 Northern Leadership Awards, held in March last year. She was also hailed as Overall Leader of the Year at the event, hosted by and sponsored by CMS and Quarterdeck.