Fujifilm to double the size of the Teesside plant that makes the Covid vaccine – .

Fujifilm to double the size of the Teesside plant that makes the Covid vaccine – .

Japanese conglomerate Fujifilm is making the biggest investment in pharmaceutical manufacturing in the UK in decades, spending £ 400million to double the size of its Teesside plant that makes the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine.

The North East England site is undergoing a transformation with factories specializing in antibody treatments and viral gene therapy. The builders are working on building one facility, while the other’s field is still just a football pitch.

With the facility opening in 2023, the company will create up to 350 highly skilled jobs in contract manufacturing, translating lab inventions into drugs that can be used in clinical trials, and then developing them for commercial production. . Factories will also be able to adapt to manufacture vaccines, especially to use mRNA technology.

Martin Meeson, managing director of Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, the pharmaceutical division of the Japanese group, hopes to create a “golden tetrahedron”, connecting the Teesside plant to the so-called golden triangle of Cambridge, Oxford and London.

“I’m going to run out of the main line on the east coast, that’s my intention, by bringing customers here,” he said.

Fujifilm, best known for its films and cameras, has a long history in medical devices and especially in x-ray technology. But the company turned to pharmaceutical manufacturing, after its core business. business has suffered from the rise of smartphones. The campus is part of its 90 billion yen (£ 600 million) capital investment program announced in June.

Meeson said the region is brimming with talent within the National Horizons Center, a biomedical institute and the CPI innovation center.

“There are a thousand people sitting in the northeast who know how to make almost any medicine or vaccine the world can think of,” he said.

But he urged the UK government to invest more in training highly skilled workers for biotechnology manufacturing, following the model of US states such as North Carolina and Texas, where Fujifilm has facilities.

Fujifilm manufactures the active ingredient in vaccines developed by US biotech Novavax at the Billingham, Teesside site and at two US facilities. This material, which includes the antigen that mimics the virus spike protein, is then combined with Novavax’s proprietary adjuvant to enhance its effectiveness.

Although it showed strong Phase 3 results at the start of the year, the Novavax vaccine has yet to be approved in the UK, where it was recently submitted to regulators, or in the US, after problems in providing consistent manufacturing information. Meeson said he didn’t know what the problems were, but Fujifilm was able to quickly start producing what was requested and had delivered “several dozen batches around the world.”

Novavax said he believed his vaccine would likely resist new variants, but began to develop a potential modified shot for the recently discovered Omicron variant.

A bioreactor at the Fujifilm laboratory in the north-east of England. The new facilities are expected to open in 2023 and will create up to 350 jobs © Joanne Coates / FT

Adapting Novavax’s recombinant protein vaccine would take longer than modifying mRNA injections, Meeson said.

“The screening process with protein-based vaccines takes a bit longer than when you do variant analysis with mRNA,” he said.

But he said the supply chain is now in place to avoid the shortages of materials and consumables that previously slowed production.

Fujifilm is one of at least four bidders for the UK’s Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Center, a flagship pandemic preparedness plant that recently went on sale, according to a person familiar with the matter. Meeson did not confirm the offer, saying only, “We are in talks with all the government acronyms you might want to think of. “

But he said the company would resist the pandemic-era nationalist push for each country to have its own capacity to produce pharmaceuticals.

“The reason we’re in UK isn’t to do national stuff in UK. We are here because we have people on the European continent and beyond who want to come here, ”he said.

Fujifilm has had problems getting supplies from the United States to the United Kingdom and Europe due to the way the United States has used the Defense Production Act to keep key materials at home.

“We’re not just trying to make vaccines. There are all these powerful cancer treatments, these genetic drugs. A country cannot just say, ‘I’m going to produce all the cancer treatments that I need’. It just won’t work, ”he said.


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