New megalab opened to help detect new COVID-19 variants

A new testing lab has been opened by the Department of Health and Social Care, to help detect new COVID-19 variants and expand testing capacity. The lab is the first of its kind in the UK.  

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is going to put us at the forefront of the global battle against COVID-19 and help us stay a step ahead of new and emerging future threats.

“Trailblazing technologies are going to be pivotal to delivering on this bold ambition and I’m delighted that today we are bolstering our capabilities in testing and genomic sequencing with the opening of the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory. This laboratory will be one of the centrepieces of our efforts to manage this virus in the future, processing hundreds of thousands of positive COVID-19 tests a day to help us stop cases becoming outbreaks.

“Testing has already been instrumental in helping us control the virus and it is going to be essential to continue to protect ourselves and our communities in the months ahead. I’d urge everyone to take up our offer of free, twice-weekly rapid testing.” 

The new megalab is based in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, and is named after Rosalind Franklin, the famous chemist. It will process COVID-19 samples to track the virus and spot new variants if they occur. 

The UKHSA will be in direct control of the laboratory and its Chief Executive, Jenny Harries, said: “Our mission at the UK Health Security Agency is to learn the lessons of this global pandemic and positively harness them in how we prepare and steel ourselves against future health threats. The pandemic has provided us with clear evidence, on a daily basis, that you can only challenge viruses of this kind with the right testing and genomics infrastructure in place.

 “The Rosalind Franklin Laboratory is going to be a critical scientific addition to how we manage this virus in the months ahead, arming us with data and intelligence on the spread of variants that will inform decision-making and ultimately, save lives.” 

Around 1,500 staff will be in place at the laboratory when it is fully operational, and it will also be a part of the NHS Test and Trace network.