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Newcastle Helix: A global hub for COVID-19 innovations and solutions

August 5, 2020

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Newcastle Helix is a unique partnership between Newcastle City Council, Legal & General and Newcastle University.  Businesses, researchers, and scientists based on this 24-acre development have been innovating and collaborating to support the global fight against COVID-19. Not only to combat the immediate impacts but preparing cities and regions for our post covid world.

 Both the private and public sector have been working together to develop new solutions, with many businesses adapting existing expertise at a time of crisis. These innovations are helping to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, supporting the economy, people, and businesses in Newcastle and across the globe to live well.

Collaboration and real-time data

Based on Newcastle Helix, Newcastle University’s Urban Observatory team has been collecting evidence of the effects of measures introduced in response to COVID-19. Over recent years the Observatory has collected billions of data points about Newcastle, meaning the team are able to undertake detailed analysis of our environment before and during the Covid-19 pandemic. They have also supported Newcastle City Council to launch Citylife line, a service that helps match volunteers with vulnerable people across the city.

The Urban Observatory also partnered with the National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD) and Newcastle University’s  Data Research Software Engineer team to develop a new web-based application for Newcastle City Council and NE1. ‘How busy is the toon’  is a new website that uses real-time data that enables people to check how easy it is to maintain social distancing.  Data from city centre cameras not only help to keep people safe it helps to build customer confidence, encouraging people to return.

Northumberland Street (How busy is the toon)

Supporting health and wellbeing through data

At the start of the pandemic, NICD worked with the Newcastle Upon Tyne NHS Hospitals NHS Trust to help develop a system that would help hospitals prioritise care within emergency and intensive care units for coronavirus patients. NICD provided scalable computing and deployment expertise to the project, thankfully this system hasn’t needed, but is there to support care if second wave of the virus occurs or to support flu season.  NICD also worked with UNIMORE Modena University in Italy, who because of high volumes of COVID-19 in Italy wanted to be able to identify a typical COVID-19 patient journey to allow them to better manage the patient numbers, schedule staff, and plan ICU provision.  Data Analytics insight is also being provided to a Newcastle foodbank to track the uptake in use due to COVID-19, helping to support those most vulnerable.

NICD has also delivered a series of events to share knowledge and expertise on how data can support the current and lasting effects of COVID-19.  They have been working with the public sector to explore data sharing across the region and how it can help prepare and plan for a crisis like COVID-19, ensuring effective responses to similar global and societal issues in the future.

Business innovation and scalable solutions

Three businesses based in The Catalyst, have been innovating to create and adapt solutions that support people and cities to live well. ProxiSmart, provide IoT Tech solutions business that provide game changing benefits to towns and cities. They were about to launch their disruptive ParkingPerx app right before COVID-19, originally designed to help reinvigorate local high streets, they have now re-positioned it as a post-covid recovery tool for local economies. It rewards those who shop locally with reduced or even eliminated parking costs, allowing key stakeholders a way of linking free parking to spending on the high street.

Capita Consulting, a successful specialist project management and claims consultancy have recently released the StaySafe Diary App to aid the Track & Trace effort. It enables people to safely and responsibly get back to visiting their favourite cafes, restaurants, and bars. It provides anonymous, contactless check-in to participating venues. Partnering with PaperKite, New Zealand based creators of the app, they are proud to be able to bring this game-changing capability to the UK.

Urban Foresight a smart city and innovation consultancy have been supporting the government of a crown dependency with its strategy for exiting safely from lockdown and to begin planning for a post-pandemic future. In St. Andrews, Scotland they have developed the UK’s first COVID-19 charter to help tourism, hospitality, and retail businesses to safely reopen. They have also been advising on the potential to use technology enabled care services to deliver remote, self-managed healthcare to shielding and vulnerable patients as well as supporting the development of emergency transport measures including new mobility services such as shared electric bikes and scooters.

Life science and research

There are a number of life science businesses based in The Biosphere who are adapting and innovating using their existing research and development expertise to support the fight against COVID-19.  Atelerix who have developed a ground breaking solution for cell preservation are using existing technology to extend the shelf life of COVID-19 test kits, Independent research organisation, ExplantLab are investigating whether certain genes may protect individuals from developing serious complications following infection from COVID-19, cancer diagnosis company MDNA Life Sciences are making Covid-19 testing available to commercial businesses and Alcyomics are investigating the immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, critical for the evaluation of vaccines and clinical management of patients.

Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency awarded ExplantLab, Atelerix and Alcyomics a share of the £40million government investment that was awarded to 800 applicants across the UK who look to to fast-track the development of research, innovations, and ideas bourne out of the pandemic.

Cllr Ged Bell with MDNA life sciences



Health tech and skills for business

 NICA has partnered with a global EdTech company to launch a new digital training program for employers. Previous research has estimated nearly 8 million people in the UK provide care for family members without pay, and recent estimates show that COVID-19 has forced an extra 4.5 million people to add to this figure. The ‘Lifeed Caregivers’ web app will allow companies to harness the potential learning from employees who have cared for an older relative or dependant.  NICA strongly believe that the experiences of life of each one of us – like caring about a family member or dealing with a crisis – can be translated in practical skills for personal and professional growth.

Lifeed Caregivers App

An innovative way to engage with communities using masks

The National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA) gather intelligence and insight from the community to inform the development of new products and services. Face-to-face workshops with groups of people are an essential part of their work. During COVID-19 they have been interacting remotely with their community but needed to find an empathic yet a safe and usable way of interacting face-to-face.   Recognising wearing masks could be a barrier to clear communication once they return to their offices and conduct physical workshops.

ClearMask who deliver to healthcare workers, is a company with the features they had in mind, ensuring they see the person not the mask. These masks provide an anti-fogging, see-through protective shield and meet ASTM level 3 standards allowing them to communicate clearly maximising the importance of facial expression and supporting those who are hard of hearing.

These innovations and adaptions are perfect examples of how the Newcastle Helix eco-system is driving collaboration and helping people live smarter, healthier, longer lives. It is testament to the talent, expertise, and drive to create a better place for those who live, work, and visit our great city and beyond.

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