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The skin specialists working together to take on time…

Innovators, researchers and experts are turning the ageing process into commercial opportunity in the heart of Newcastle

January 8th 2021

L/R - Dr Olusola (Sola) Idowu, founder of Hexis Lab, Prof Mark Birch-Machin (SLA founder and Professor of Molecular Dermatology at Newcastle University) and Dr Meera Vijayaraghavan (Senior Innovation Associate at the National Innovation Centre for Ageing and Director of SLA) at The Catalyst in Newcastle City Centre.

As its name suggests, The Catalyst – based in the £350 million Helix development, the site of the old Scottish & Newcastle Brewery base in the Gallowgate area of the city – is a melting pot for the sharpest brains in business, innovation and commercialisation professionals and leading-edge experts in ageing to collaborate and create new companies, services and products to help us all age well, for longer.

One of the key areas of research and development is skin care – with a number of organisations and individuals joining forces to deliver solutions to the global industry and cement a place for Newcastle as a healthy skin ageing centre for excellence.

With the worldwide beauty industry estimated to be worth $532 billion, The Catalyst aims to be a launchpad for firms looking to find their market in the sector and provide a forum for turning world-class applied academic expertise into tangible business opportunity.

Two such organisations working together to share expertise are Skin Life Analytics (SLA), a pre-spin out from Newcastle University, and HexisLab, an established player in the skin care sector – both among the first groups to take space at The Catalyst.

Together, working with the UK’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing, they are building on years of rigorous research to put Newcastle on the map as the ‘global hub’ for translating skin and ageing research and technology into tangible products and services, serving the personalised skincare market.

HexisLab designs and develops specific skincare formulations, optimised for different ethnic skin types and conditions.

HexisLab’s proprietary AI (artificial intelligence) discovery platform, HexisPro.X enables the rapid screening of thousands of natural products to identify bioactive ingredients with unique skincare benefits.

The business was founded by chief executive Dr Olusola (Sola) Idowu, an accomplished scientist.

Dr Idowu has a track record of developing, implementing and commercialising disruptive artificial intelligence-based technologies which drive new product development in the healthcare and personal care sectors.

Sola says: “We have extensive collaboration with Newcastle University Professor Mark Birch-Machin on a number of projects.

“One of the current projects is the EU-funded Intensive Industrial Innovation Programme (IIIP), specifically looking at developing a novel testing and diagnostics process for skin ageing.

“Moving to the Catalyst building has made it much easier for us to collaborate and work with experts across different disciplines, helping everyone to achieve positive outcomes.

“I expect things will become increasingly dynamic as we emerge from lockdown and I think that without doubt, The Catalyst and Newcastle will become a global hub for skin ageing and not only that, but data as well.”

Spread over five floors, the 100,000sq ft centre is home to the UK’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA) and the National Innovation Centre for Data (NICD).

The North East’s first BREAM outstanding building is a multi-award-winning building built to outstanding environmental and sustainability standards.

Skin Life Analytics, created by Prof Birch-Machin, a Professor of Molecular Dermatology at Newcastle University, is being supported by NICA through mentoring and business support.

It has developed a swab test to measure and monitor skin DNA damage, offers a lifestyle assessment to outline changes that could be made to improve skin, and utilises face scan technology to pinpoint areas that would benefit from a more specific care regime.

Prof Birch-Machin [pictured below, with Dr Meera Vijayaraghavan], says: “Based upon years of international research expertise in my research group, SLA is in its early commercial stages and we are still working out the best business model for us, but we are already talking to a number of companies and clinics that are interested in what we can do and are incredibly keen to work with us.

“The Catalyst puts companies at the heart of a community with shared and similar specialisms and areas of expertise.

“It is really important for a young business like ours to be able to draw from the experience of others and access the advice and expertise required to make informed decisions on how we grow the business.”

Dr Vijayaraghavan, senior innovation associate at NICA, and a part of the SLA team, says: “We are working closely with HexisLab and with NICA on a number of exciting projects and very much look forward to talking to and collaborating with others too.

“The Catalyst is a fantastic site, which is located in central Newcastle making it easily accessible.

“The developments on the Helix will bring people across many different sectors together to create a vibrant innovation ecosystem, which is an exciting and supportive environment for SLA to grow and develop.”

Prof Patrick Bonnett, development director at NICA and vice-chairman of the UK Science Park Association, says: “One of the main considerations when building The Catalyst was not only to create somewhere where businesses could thrive, but also an environment where there are watercooler conversations and serendipitous collisions that can lead to shared opportunity and collaboration.

“It offers enclosed spaces, where businesses have thrived throughout COVID-19 lockdowns and I think what we will see in the coming months is the unpausing of many conversations in specific geographies that began pre-COVID-19 that will now continue, enhancing the credentials of the businesses here at The Catalyst.”

When the shackles of the COVID-19 lockdown are removed, the foundations are in place for Newcastle to become a global hub for skin ageing technology with the businesses in The Catalyst at the forefront.

Rebecca Robinson, centre manager at The Catalyst, which is managed by Oxford Innovation, says: “There is far more to The Catalyst than its pretty face – it is one of the most striking buildings in the North of England, but it’s what’s inside that makes it so special.

“The facility provides the fertile ground required to take the seed of an idea or innovation and grow it into new business.

“However, it is far more than a business incubator, it is a place where applied researchers, innovation experts and entrepreneurs can work together to create, literally in some cases, magic in a bottle, that puts Newcastle at the centre of worldwide innovation into understanding how skin ages as we get older and what we can do to maintain healthy skin.”

NICA harnesses the business opportunities related to longevity economies through human experience, ethics, data, collaboration, emerging technologies and innovative business models.

By bringing together businesses, applied researchers and the public, NICA stimulates innovation of products and services that make older lives better.

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