Since it opened in 2019, the National Horizons Centre has quickly established itself as a vital linchpin helping drive forward the life sciences sector across the UK.
Through research, partnerships and training , the National Horizons Centre, a £22.3 million national centre of excellence for the bioscience industries based at Central Park, Darlington, is working to develop the capacity of the life sciences sector, encouraging innovation and supporting industry with its world-class facilities.
The NHC was founded in conversation with, and for the bioindustry, to discover diseases earlier, develop novel treatments, and deliver life changing medicines to those in need, quicker, safer and more affordably.
Its key strengths include disease specific research to understand the biology of diseases; biomanufacturing to develop and deliver faster, safer and more affordable treatments; and, digital analytics and machine learning to utilise the latest technology in the discovery, development and delivery of life changing medicines.
Over the six months, since the new director, Dr Jen Vanderhoven arrived, this has been evidenced in a variety of ways; from helping train the region’s vaccine manufacturing workforce to collaborating with industry to increase process productivity.
VITAL VACCINE TRAINING
The National Horizons Centre is to play a pivotal part in training the future vaccine manifesting workforce as the country battles back against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sixty-million doses of the Novavax vaccine are being manufactured in Stockton-on-Tees by FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies (FDB), with the National Horizons Centre helping train their expanding workforce. The NHC is delivering a bespoke training course for new FDB staff looking at the latest development in biologics and imparting the necessary skills to carry out process development and manufacturing of vaccines and other life saving medicines.
The National Horizons Centre is also exploring more ways which it can use its state-of-the-art facilities and expertise to support the nations vaccine manufacturers, with skills development as it continues its integral role in the pandemic ecosystem.
As well as loaning vital equipment to NHS trusts, the National Horizons Centre is part of a study working with clinicians from local NHS Trusts to understand the clinical course of COVID-19 cases in the region and in other countries to understand risk factors and guide treatment strategies.
In parallel, the team is investigating underlying aspects such as respiratory disease and the cytokine storm that can prove a disastrous turning point not just in Covid-19, but other diseases too.
DEVELOPING A BIOSCIENCE HUB
The National Horizons Centre’s partnership with FDB to grow the skills capacity of the vaccine manufacturing workforce is part of a wider collaboration to grow the bioscience sector in the Tees Valley region.
Alongside FDB and CPI, the NHC is a founding member of the Northern Bio-Accelerator Partnership, which has created a bioprocessing, biomanufacturing and biopharmaceutical hub and position the North East as a centre of innovation, attracting investment, enhanced education and workforce development, and ultimately enabling more companies to bring life changing medicines to market faster.
Each organisation brings unique expertise to the partnership, with a proven track record of collaboration.
The National Horizons Centre, provides the academic and skills aspect, offering industry-specifc scientifc expertise, driving basic and applied research, and providing workforce training and development.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “Our region is becoming one of the best places in the world for science, innovation and jobs of the future, and this is down to the fantastic work being done behind the scenes at the National Horizons Centre, CPI and FUJFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies.
“It is because of nationally signifcant partnerships like this that we can continue to punch above our weight as a region and attract the jobs, businesses and investment to the North East.”
DELIVERING ADVANCED TRAINING
The selection of the NHC as one of three UK National Training Centres for the Advanced Therapies Skills Training Network (ATSTN) further cements the NHCs expansive capabilities, and the region’s growing reputation as a global hub for the bioscience sector.
The NHC will deliver high impact hands-on training courses as part of the growing ATSTN programme, expanding on its already existing industry focused training programmes.
ATSTN is a nationwide skills development programme funded from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Innovate UK (IUK) delivered through the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult.
Matthew Durdy, Chief Executive Officer at Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, said: “The involvement of the National Horizons Centre will enable the ATSTN to provide users with a wide variety of exciting training resources which are at the forefront of innovation. I look forward to witnessing the impact which the NHC will make as part of this valued collaboration over the years to come.”
As part of the ATSTN, the National Horizons Centre will also create a virtual reality training facility.
This will build upon ground-breaking work to develop innovative technological methods to improve productivity and training in the bioscience sector.
The National Horizons Centre team has created a realistic virtual learning environment to simulate the operation of a biomanufacturing plant and actively engage with virtual emergency scenarios.
Additional work includes the development of an Artificial Intelligence module which can track a user’s performance to monitor and assess training needs across individuals and user groups.
AN EXCITING FUTURE
A panel of leading industry experts has given its wholehearted support to the centre’s ambitious fve-year business plan which aims to signifcantly grow the skills and capacity of the UK’s bioscience industry and includes the recruitment of 15 senior staff and academics.
Members of a bioscience industry workshop featuring leaders from national and international organisations agreed that the exciting vision would provide a rich pipeline of graduate talent to the life sciences sector while helping to grow the UK bioindustry through industry-focused training, research and partnerships.
Over the next fve years, the National Horizons Centre will invest more than £2.5million to meet its aims.
Investments include the recruitment of 15 new staff including four senior academics at Professor level specialising in Proteomics, Translational Healthcare, Gene Therapy and Cell Engineering, as well as a senior technician, experimental officers and a business development manager.
By the end of the five year-plan, up to 50 percent of the National Horizons Centre’s output will be focused towards industrial collaboration and training.
The NHC also plans to develop key collaborations and strengthen the existing synergies between organisations at Darlington Central Park to ensure it continues to grow as a leading centre for bioprocessing and biopharma, attracting even more talent and investment.
Steve Bagshaw CBE, Chief Industry Adviser to the NHC and chairman and former chief executive of FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnolgies, said: “Since opening in 2019, the NHC has already made a huge impact helping to grow the life sciences ecosystem here in the Tees Valley and developing the skills and talent needed for the jobs of the future.
“These plans will build on these considerable achievements and this endorsement by industry peers are testament to the approach that the NHC has taken to ensure it is constantly working in partnership with and responsive to the demands of the sector.”
For more information visit www.tees.ac.uk/nhc