The High Sheriff of Oxfordshire, Imam Monawar Hussain has officially opened the newly-converted class II R&D laboratories alongside Jeremy Long, chair of the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP), and Steve Burgess of The Oxford Trust, the charity that owns the building. Also in attendance were founders of the two biotech companies that have taken space – David Llewellyn of DJS Antibodies and Peter Hamley of Samsara Therapeutics.

The Oxford Trust’s development of class II laboratory facilities at its Wood Centre for Innovation is to answer the significant demand that has been seen in the last year from science and tech start-ups and SMEs for lab space in Oxford’s world-leading life sciences cluster, centred in Headington, delivering lifesaving developments such as the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Trust has received £0.1 million in funding towards the £0.5m project via the Government’s Local Growth Fund, secured by OxLEP.

On unveiling the official plaque, Imam Monawar Hussain said: “As a member of the Trust’s board and the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire, I am pleased to open the new R&D lab space at the Wood Centre for Innovation to support science and tech start-ups at the forefront of research and more widely innovation in our region.”

Biotech start-up, DJS Antibodies has taken more than 2,000 sq ft of laboratory and office space for their nine staff and Samsara Therapeutics 1200 sq ft. Both companies are working on ground-breaking projects: DJS is developing therapeutics to treat the world’s most critical inflammatory diseases, a class of disease that accounts for more than 50% of deaths worldwide, and Samsara is discovering new therapies for extending healthy ageing and treating age-related genetic diseases.

They have joined Barclays Eagle Labs, Low Carbon Hub, Lurtis, Spintex, Printpool and SSEN.

Steve Burgess, chief executive officer, The Oxford Trust, said: “We were honoured that the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire came to officially open our newly-converted labs alongside founders of the businesses who have recently joined our thriving innovation community. Now more than ever it’s vital that we continue to invest to support local innovators and entrepreneurs to develop ground-breaking ideas. It is thanks to OxLEP for securing the national government funding alongside the Trust’s investment that we have been able to accelerate the lab provision at our Centre to help support Oxfordshire’s dynamic innovation ecosystem.”

Jeremy Long, chair of the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership said: “We are delighted to celebrate the official opening of these new cutting-edge laboratories, which further highlights the growing demand for such space from Oxfordshire’s world-class life sciences sector.”

“Over the past year, we have all seen how the historic investment in R&D and expert capability in Oxfordshire-based life sciences facilities has been able to play a swift and highly effective role in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We hope that the Local Growth Fund investment that we secured for this project will help the sector continue to build from its position of major strength.”

“As the Local Enterprise Partnership for Oxfordshire, we will continue to play a vitally important role moving forward, securing investment and championing our significant sectors which – in turn – will enable new opportunities for the benefit of our wider communities too.”

The laboratory conversion totals 3,300 sq ft of advanced R&D laboratory space for work at containment level 2 with climate control and air handling, supported by 500 sq ft of shared facilities for common equipment and specialist microscopy use, including liquid nitrogen storage, autoclave use, ultrapure water supply and a dark room facility. With phase 1 of the lab development complete and fully let, The Oxford Trust is now considering a phase 2 development to convert a further 3000 sq ft of class II lab space later this year.

Surrounded by 15-acres of woodland, the Wood Centre for Innovation is within easy reach of the clinical and medical research facilities at the University of Oxford’s Old Road Campus, major research hospitals, and Oxford Brookes University.

The Trust’s two innovation centres – the Wood Centre for Innovation and the Oxford Centre for Innovation in the city centre – are managed by Oxford Innovation, the UK’s leading operator of innovation centres and support a 28-strong community of science and tech start-ups and spinouts. The income from the innovation centres is invested into innovation programmes and the Trust’s Science Oxford education and engagement programmes to inspire the scientists and innovators of the future.