Global Head of Neuroscience Discovery marks official launch of The Biosphere

Dr. Fiona Marshall, Global Head of Neuroscience Discovery, MSD visited Newcastle to mark the official launch of The Biosphere.

 Located at Newcastle Helix, The Biosphere is a specialist lab facility tailored to commercialisation of life sciences.  It providesbiology and chemistry laboratories and high-quality office space.

Dr. Fiona Marshall was joined by Cllr Ged Bell, Cabinet Member for Employment and Investment and Pat Ritchie, Chief Executive, Newcastle City Council who used this opportunity to bring the sector together and thank everyone who has been involved in the project to date.

Held at The Biosphere, this event was attended by key figureheads from the business community, academics, funders and other key stakeholders from across the region.

MSD is one of the top biopharmaceutical companies in the world. Dr. Fiona Marshall joined them as Vice President Head of Discovery Research UK and has since taken on the role of Global Head of Neuroscience Discovery.

Dr. Fiona Marshall said: “I would like to congratulate Newcastle City Council on their vision of creating a new bio tech cluster, helping to attract new investment and facilitate new innovations that have the potential to impact people right across the world.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Newcastle for making me feel so welcome.  It was a pleasure to officially open The Biosphere, a building that will play a vital role in the growth of the life science sector.  The spirit of innovation is really alive in Newcastle and there is so much support to help companies to develop and grow.  The range and quality of the science happening in the Biosphere is remarkable and I have no doubt that more and more academics and entrepreneurs will choose Newcastle as a base to commercialise their products and new discoveries.”

Cllr Ged Bell, Cabinet Member for Employment and Investment, Newcastle City Council added: “This event provided an opportunity to celebrate the story so far and showcase this specialist facility locally, nationally and internationally. The Biosphere was a significant investment for the local economy and marked a clear commitment to life sciences growth.  So much has been achieved since 2015, the design, construction and operation of a new lab facility that is now home to 10 dynamic life science businesses with global life-changing ambitions. We now have the right infrastructure that will allow new and growing life science businesses to thrive, and as this happens it will bring more opportunities and jobs to the local area in this emerging and exciting new sector. This coupled with the innovative community on Newcastle Helix will help accelerate growth, entrepreneurial activity and the commercialisation of ideas within life sciences. I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to everyone involved.”

The Biosphere is already home to several leading life science businesses including Iksuda Therapeutics, NorthGene, Jiahua, MDNA Life Sciences, Northern Retrieval Registry, Alcyomics, Atelerix, Newchem, Biberchem and Demuris.

NorthGene who are aleading provider of DNA-based relationship testing and human identity services were among the first companies to move into The Biosphere. They needed cutting-edge lab facilities to support the rapid growth of their business and the expansion of their testing repertoire.

Ryan Wetherell, Operations Manager said: “Newcastle is the ideal place for a growing life science business. The city has a strong reputation for research excellence led by two outstanding universities, four national centres of excellence and one of the UK’s leading NHS trusts. Additionally, Newcastle has great local and national transport links which are essential for our ‘direct to consumer’ testing services.

“The Biosphere is in the heart of a supportive, business community that actively collaborates and pulls in the same direction to achieve shared growth. Newcastle’s life sciences community is thriving, helped in no small part by the supportive infrastructure provided to growing Biotechnology industries.”

They are joined byIksuda Therapeutics, who are leading the way in creating next generation biopharmaceutical drugs that target difficult to treat cancers.

Dr David Simpson, Co-founder and CEO at Iksuda Therapeuticssaid: “We were actively looking for centralised laboratory space to enhance our position in the bio tech space. Once the region had committed to the build, and with the opportunity to create a bespoke space for Iksuda our relocation to The Biosphere was never in doubt.  As well as the specialist cutting edge facilities, the eco-system at Newcastle Helix was a key driver for us. The model for clusters and scientific centres of excellence is well proven globally to enhance the success rates of biotech companies. The region has a growing biotech cluster and is well positioned to access key technical skills needed to deliver our research programmes. We are delighted to be part of the Helix community and a fast-growing life science sector here in the North East.”

The Biosphere is based on Newcastle Helix – a landmark 24-acre hybrid city quarter in the centre of Newcastlebuilt for international tech and science businesses, the local community and residents.

Kier were chosen to build the new facility which was designed by Ryder Architects.  Property and Facilities Management Services are delivered by established building consultancy, Aura North East – all who benefit from commercial and technical guidance from life science specialist Cam-Sci.

The Biosphere has secured significant funding through the current European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Government’s Local Growth Deal through the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). Both funds help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations.

Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth, Jake Berry MP, said:“We’re committed to boosting economic growth across the Northern Powerhouse and building a Britain fit for the future.I am delighted to see the official launch of The Biosphere, made possible with £8.6m from the Local Growth Fund. This highly impressive building is a fitting example of the North’s growing international reputation for excellence in life sciences and biotechnology.”

Alan Welby, Innovation Director at the North East LEP, added: “The Biosphere offers regional facilities but with a global vision, presenting a welcoming home for ambitious companies within life sciences, healthcare and emerging fields of biotechnology. Being based at Newcastle Helix not only gives companies access to essential support services but also opens a wealth of opportunities such as access to university expertise and research but also the potential of collaboration with others on site – and it’s when companies collaborate that will see real innovation happening which can unlock business growth and ultimately lead to more and better jobs.”

Global Head of Neuroscience Discovery marks official launch of The Biosphere2019-07-09T15:15:27+00:00

Aura Grows Team

Aura has appointed Victoria Bell as Bid and Business Coordinator.

Victoria joins from SES Engineering Services with specialist experience in the creation of winning bids for building services and infrastructure projects. She will support business development, quality management and marketing.

Aura Chief Executive, Kirsty Thirlwell, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Victoria to our team, which has a wide range of expertise and experience in the complexities of the tender process in the construction sector. She will play an integral role in the continued growth of the business. Aura’s success is built on developing a clear understanding of our client’s needs and consistently delivering winning solutions.


Aura Grows Team2019-05-24T08:52:15+00:00

Aura To Design 3 New Schools in Newcastle


Newcastle City Council has awarded Aura a contract to design three new schools as part of its programme for new and expanded schools in the north and outer west of the city.

Aura will undertake detailed design work for two new build schools, First School Newcastle Great Park and Simonside Primary, as well as an expansion of Kingston Park Primary.

The schools will be built to meet current and future demand for school places which is increasing with the continued growth in local population. The designs will create a 21stCentury learning environment which enhances teaching and inspires users to learn. They will encompass a sustainable approach to construction, environmental servicing and travel to school with the use of modern technology for energy efficiency and sustainability.

All of the new school buildings will be constructed to Council specifications, enhancing the immediate environment and providing a welcoming safe and secure facility for children on a site that balances the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

Aura Chief Executive, Kirsty Thirlwell, said: “We are delighted to have won this contract and look forward to working closely with Newcastle City Council to create the best possible designs for new schools that will provide a modern sustainable learning environment. Our team has an extensive track record in delivering successful schools projects as well as a detailed understanding of the needs of the local communities which these schools will serve.”

Aura, based in Gateshead, specialises in building consultancy, design and construction, property management and investment. The company has a proven track record and has delivered over £400 million of high-quality infrastructure across the North East in the last ten years.

Aura To Design 3 New Schools in Newcastle2019-03-06T09:36:20+00:00

5 Keys to delivering Construction projects on Time and Budget

The UK construction is seeing growth and margins stagnating while at the same time almost every aspect of cost from materials to skills, is rising steadily.  It’s a situation that allows little or no room for error and demands that construction more project managers have to be more effective than ever.

Delivering a high quality project for a client on time and budget is no mean feat and while the skills of a project manager must be many and varied, there five aspects that are key to success.


Detailed strategic planning must start before the contract is finalised and needs to take account of every eventuality. Ask anyone in construction what the variables are and they’ll happily tell you, but how often were they properly considered in the planning? An effective project plan should be a road map to completion that defines the deliverables and risks at every stage of the process. It should identify and eliminate potential problems up front so that they don’t become costly fixes once site operations start.


Success requires teamwork and the best teamwork is always the result of effective communications. It’s vital to establish communication processes for everyone involved in the project. That flow of information needs to continue throughout the lifetime of the project. An effective PM should get out on to site as much as possible to measure progress and get as much feedback as possible.


Involve the supply chain with the design team from as early on as possible in the bidding process. One of the biggest benefits of collaboration is the potential to improve productivity and value on the project for everyone while delivering a quality building on time.  Involving everyone from the start, supported by effective communication, will also manage expectations and reduce client changes further down the line.

Review (and review again!)

Constant and repeated progress review is vital and minimises discrepancies with resources. Unforeseen problems are bound to occur but if they have been planned for at the start then it is easier to adapt, reassess and reprioritise. For example, a spell of bad weather might mean redeployment of staff onto other tasks.


There is no shortage of technology available to help project managers deal with the huge number of complex tasks associated with any construction project. That in itself can create problems if contractors in the supply chain all use different technology and software products that don’t integrate well.  It’s a significant consideration at the pre contract planning stage so that solutions can be found to allow effective sharing of documentation and data throughout the project.

5 Keys to delivering Construction projects on Time and Budget2019-02-04T10:32:24+00:00

New Lab Facility to Open in Newcastle Helix


Aura has a key role in a brand-new lab facility that is soon to be opening within the heart of Newcastle’s £350m urban development scheme – Newcastle Helix.

The Biosphere will provide a home for ambitious companies within life sciences and innovation, research and development. This is all part of the city’s wider commitment to support economic development and growth within the life sciences sector.

The new 90,000 sq. ft purpose-built £25m facility will contain both commercial laboratory and office spaces. As well as satisfying commercial laboratory demand, a conferencing facility for up to 80 people will offer a space for an events programme and for the sector to meet and share knowledge. The building is due for completion late November 2018.

This bespoke commercial offering to life science businesses, underpins Newcastle’s commitment to providing the right infrastructure to allow local businesses to grow as well as attracting inward investment to the city.

Newcastle City Council is working with a team of experts to deliver this project, utilising and maximising appropriate resource and expertise.

Kier were chosen to build the new facility which was designed by Ryder Architects under the commercial and technical guidance of Cam-Sci, ensuring flexibility and resilience run throughout the building’s design. London-based creative agency Bandstand and Invest Newcastle will both play a role in raising the profile of the facility and in attracting new life sciences businesses to The Biosphere.

Property and Facilities Management Services will be delivered by established building consultancy, Aura North East. They were chosen because of their experience and expertise in managing and designing complex infrastructure projects, such as hospitals and laboratories.

Cllr Ged Bell, Cabinet Member for employment, Newcastle City Council said: “The Biosphere will be a welcome addition to Newcastle Helix’s property portfolio and provide much needed laboratory space in the city.

“It will play a vital role in the economic development of our city and help us to build on our reputation for life sciences; enabling this sector to grow.

“Newcastle is at the forefront of science and innovation and what makes The Biosphere unique is that businesses will have the opportunity to connect with researchers, academics and industry leaders. This will help them to innovate and create a pipeline of talent that will take them forward into the future.”

James Marshall, Project Manager at Aura North East said: “We are excited to be part of such an ambitious project that aims to bring long-term investment, jobs and prosperity to the North East.  Aura has been involved in the Biosphere project from its inception at the design stage and through construction. We share the city’s ambition for innovation, collaboration and growth within the life sciences sector.”

Catherine Walker, Inward Investment Director, Invest Newcastle said: “This is such an exciting time for the life sciences sector. The Biosphere has already proven popular, not only because of its technical specification, but because of the community that surrounds its base. We are delighted to be part of the strategic team that is helping to drive this project forward.”

The Biosphere has secured significant funding through the current European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and North East Local Growth Fund (LGF) programmes, which help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations.

Not only is The Biosphere nearing completion, work has also started on The Lumen, a new office building aimed at scientific and tech businesses.  Construction is also well underway for a new Learning and Teaching Centre and a National Innovation Building that will be home to National Innovation Centres for both Ageing and Data.

Onsite neighbours already include The Core where knowledge-based science and technology SMEs are based, and the Newcastle University’s award-winning Urban Sciences Building. The Biosphere will complement this network and strengthen Newcastle’s reputation for life sciences.

Newcastle Helix brings together industry leaders, businesses and top researchers in an innovation community. It is a partnership between Newcastle City Council, Newcastle University and Legal & General to create more than 4,000 jobs, half a million square feet of office space and 450 new homes.

To find out more visit

New Lab Facility to Open in Newcastle Helix2019-03-06T09:39:36+00:00

Aura Bid Expertise Wins £60m for Merit

A partnership between two North East businesses has delivered over £60 million in capital project wins in the last two years.

Aura, the Newcastle based construction consultancy, provides bid management services to Merit Holdings winning more than 8 major contracts for the specialist engineering and construction company across the UK, including E.ON, the Royal Albert Hall and Rolls Royce.

Aura Chief Executive, Kirsty Thirlwell, said:

“Our team has a wide range of expertise and experience in the complexities of the tender process in the construction sector. We work closely with the Merit team, developing a clear understanding of their clients’ needs and building a response which will be successful.  Our team has technical experience of high complexity environment such as cleanrooms, laboratories and energy generation and we incorporate this knowledge with our bid expertise to achieve a high bid hit rate.”

Tony Wells, Managing Director, Merit Holdings said:

“We have seen significant growth in new business wins over the last two years and the team at Aura have played a key role in raising the profile of the business and achieving our sales targets.  The impressive results speak for themselves and support the continued growth and success of the business.”

Aura, based in Newcastle, specialises in building consultancy, construction, asset management and investment. The company has a proven track record and has delivered over £300 million of high quality infrastructure across the North East in the last ten years.

Established in 1993, Merit is one of the UK’s leading engineering and construction specialists and was recently named North East Company of the Year. It prides itself on the ability to design and construct solutions for the pharmaceutical sector.

For further information contact:

John Morton

Aura Communications Manager

Tel 07515 352 461


Aura Bid Expertise Wins £60m for Merit2018-06-11T11:37:17+00:00

Construction Starts on National Horizons Centre

Aura is proud to be working in partnership with Summers Inman to provide quantity surveying services on Teesside University’s National Horizons project.

The Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth has formally launched construction work on the new £22.3 million research, teaching and training facility set to drive growth in the regional and national bioscience industries.

The National Horizons Centre, which is being built by Wates Construction on behalf of Teesside University at Central Park in Darlington, will concentrate on developing the technical, innovation and management skills and knowledge needed for the sector to continue to grow and generate jobs and wealth in Tees Valley and the UK.

Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth Jake Berry joined Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and Teesside University Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Professor Paul Croney to mark the start of the build programme, due to be completed in spring 2019.

The National Horizons Centre is being established to support the bioscience sector, which includes biologics, biomedical sciences, industrial biotechnology and digital.  It will play a key part in driving STEM skills and economic growth in the Tees Valley, through industry-focused education and training and collaborative research and innovation.

It has been financially supported by the Local Growth Fund, via the Tees Valley Combined Authority, and the European Regional Development Fund.  The Local Growth Fund contribution of £17.5m represents the single biggest investment by the fund in the Tees Valley.

The centre will house academics and business development staff from Teesside University, working in partnership with regional, national and international industry partners, including the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) and Fujifilm Diosynth, to provide specialist education and training for the current and future workforce, and to promote industry-focused innovation and research.

Its imaginative design includes an exciting blend of teaching, learning and collaboration spaces, together with hi-tech laboratories and a state-of-the-art computing suite.

Together with CPI’s adjacent National Biologics Manufacturing Centre and the University’s Centre for Professional and Executive Development (CPED), the centre will be at the heart of a cluster of excellence on Darlington’s Central Park.

Minister for the Northern Powerhouse Jake Berry said: “I was delighted to be here celebrating the start of the build of the National Horizons Centre today, which has received £17.5m government investment.

“This is the Northern Powerhouse in action because this Centre will not only be of regional importance but will be a nationally significant asset too.

“It will train our young people to become the scientists of the future and continue to drive forward the Tees Valley as a leader in research, science and innovation in the UK and the world.”

The £22.3 million investment in the National Horizons Centre is part of Teesside University’s ambitious campus masterplan, which will see £300 million spent over the next 10 years in transforming its estate to continue to provide an outstanding student and learning experience.

Professor Croney said: “The National Horizons Centre is the result of significant work with industry and our partners, to identify how best the bioscience sector can reach its full potential through provision of the right education, training and collaborative innovation.

“A key priority of Teesside University is to help drive the knowledge economy, by growing the high-level skills base, building partnerships with industry and the professions, and creating graduates with the knowledge, aptitude and mindset to add real value to business.

“Our investment in The National Horizons Centre is an example of this in action. It will play a vital role, providing first-class facilities and programmes to grow knowledge and research in sectors that are set to transform the UK economy.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “This is the single biggest investment we have made so far. The new National Horizons Centre will be a beacon of all we are good at here in the Tees Valley.

“Our rich history of innovation, research and development is set to continue thanks to this state-of-the-art facility in Darlington. I’m pleased the Northern Powerhouse Minister has come up today to launch this exciting project.”

Kirsty Thirwell, Chief Executive at Aura, said: “Aura has successfully supported the University on a number of projects over the last five years and we are delighted to have been chosen to work with them on such a prestigious initiative as the National Horizons Centre.”

Paul Dodsworth, Business Unit Director for Wates Construction Yorkshire and North East, commented: “As a national company with a Darlington office, we welcome this huge investment in the local area, and we are honoured that Wates is to play such a pivotal role in this landmark project for both the Tees Valley region and the bioscience sector across the UK. Our excellent North East team is in place to deliver the National Horizons Centre, and we look forward to working closely with our partners on what is set to be a fascinating project for all involved.”

For further information contact:

John Morton

Aura Communications Manager

Tel 07515 352 461


Construction Starts on National Horizons Centre2018-05-03T13:39:36+00:00