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A Teesside plant that makes Covid-19 vaccines has received a £ 400million injection from its Japanese owners, the largest single investment in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals in the UK in decades.

The biotech arm of Japanese conglomerate Fujifilm, best known for its photographic heritage, said the package would more than double the development and manufacturing capacity of its Billingham site, creating the largest biopharmaceutical plant with several different technologies in the Kingdom. -United.

The Stockton-on-Tees factory produces ingredients from biological sources for pharmaceutical treatments, such as microbes, cell cultures and viral vectors, used to introduce genetic material into cells.

The investment, which is part of a global envelope of 90 billion yen unveiled by its Japanese owner in June, will increase the 890 additional employees. It employed 490 people in 2011, when it was acquired by Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies.

The site, where the headquarters of the chemical group ICI was once located, produces Covid vaccines for the US company Novavax. The factory began manufacturing the key jab ingredient in February and has been contracted to produce it for doses of $ 60 million, although it may increase the amount needed to as high as $ 180 million. News of the contract left the city “buzzing” when it was first announced in January in Teesside, which was once a global center of steel and chemicals production but has suffered decades of decline. industrial.

The plant also produces cell cultures for a range of monoclonal antibody treatments for conditions ranging from cancer to inflammatory diseases as well as the treatment of Covid-19. Globally, Fujifilm’s biotech company is working on half a dozen Covid projects, including vaccines, therapies and monoclonal antibody treatments.

The £ 400million investment triples Billingham’s cell culture capabilities, boosts its gene therapy production capacity tenfold and will add the capacity to produce and supply mRNA technologies in vaccine manufacturing. Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna Covid jabs are made using mRNA technologies.

Martin Meeson, Managing Director of Fijifilm Diosynth, said: “We all know there has never been a more important time to invest in biopharmaceuticals. With a strong growing demand for microbial, cell culture and viral gene therapy services, we are adding capacity and the latest technologies within a campus to deliver a range of modalities to build an offering that will provide promising new treatments to patients. patients for years to come. “

The new facilities are expected to be operational by the end of 2023.

Boris Johnson said: “This is a significant investment in UK biopharmaceutical manufacturing and it will fuel our response to some of today’s most pressing global health challenges and deliver drugs and vaccines that change the world. lives of patients in need. “

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Separately, GSK has announced that it is investing £ 30million in a new Institute of Molecular and Computational Medicine at the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford. The collaboration aims to deepen the understanding of complex diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, for which there is no cure.

Other recent major UK investments by pharmaceutical companies have been in R&D rather than manufacturing. AstraZeneca last week unveiled a new £ 1billion R&D center in Cambridge, Britain’s largest science lab with the Francis Crick Institute in London, while US drugmaker Merck builds a search for a billion pounds nearby.

Over the past few years, GSK has invested £ 275million in three of its UK factories at Barnard Castle in the north of England, Montrose in Scotland and Ware in Hertfordshire in 2016. Pfizer invested 10million pounds sterling at its Sandwich, Kent site in April to speed up drug manufacturing.

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