Science facility which kickstarted UK’s Covid drug development gets £500m

A ground-breaking science facility which kickstarted the UK’s Covid-19 drug development and has advanced treatments for HIV and cancer has been granted a £500 million upgrade fund.

Diamond Light Source in Harwell, Oxfordshire, is the UK’s national synchrotron – essentially a giant microscope, which produces light 10 billion times brighter than the sun.

This light is directed into laboratories called beamlines, where research takes place in virtually all fields of science from health to energy.

The device, which is 10,000 times more powerful than a traditional microscope, has made ground-breaking health discoveries, and has also been crucial to studying a range of subject matter.

This includes analysing fragments of ancient paintings and fossils, while finding solutions to extending the life of machinery such as engines and turbine blades.

On Tuesday Science Secretary Michelle Donelan visited Diamond, based at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, to announce £519 million of funding for the Diamond-II upgrade, provided by the Government, through UKRI (STFC), and the Wellcome Trust.

She said: “Our national synchrotron may fly under the radar as we go about our daily lives, but it has been crucial to some of the most defining discoveries in recent history – from kickstarting Covid drug development that allowed us to protect millions to advancing treatment for HIV.

“Our investment will ensure one of the most pioneering scientific facilities in the world continues to advance discoveries that transform our health and prosperity, while creating jobs, growing the UK economy and ensuring our country remains a scientific powerhouse.”

A booster coronavirus vaccine is administered
Research conducted at the Diamond Light Source in 2020 has helped in the development of Covid treatments and helped understand the efficacy of the Covid vaccine (PA)

The upgrade is expected to be completed in 2030 and will involve construction of a new, even brighter synchrotron machine, with new flagship beamlines and critical beamline upgrades.

It is hoped the improvements will accelerate drug development, offer real-time insights that will further advance manufacturing and enable further study into improving the performance of next-generation batteries.

Chief research programmes officer at Wellcome, Cheryl Moore, said: “Diamond Light Source is an example of how investment in critical research infrastructure leads to scientific innovation.

“Over the past two decades, it has enabled generations of researchers to explore scientific questions that push boundaries, collaborate across disciplines, develop new technologies and make new discoveries to advance health that could not have been pursued elsewhere.

“We are pleased to see the UK Government invest in this outstanding research facility, reaffirming the UK’s role as a world leader in science and technology. ”

Research conducted at the Diamond Light Source in 2020 has helped in the development of Covid treatments, helped understand the efficacy of the Covid vaccine and advanced treatment for many diseases from HIV to cancer.

In addition, the synchrotron has helped the physical sciences, helping to discover new materials for the electronic and renewable industries as well as developing technology directly contributing to the net zero agenda.