Based on the pioneering work done in the 1970's a whole new business is being created to make pharmaceutical products from natural raw materials. The Avecia operation in Billingham now employs over 500 people - the majority being graduate level skills in biotechnology to develop new products and innovative processes which will be used for the medicines of the future.
Within a mile of the Avecia complex are small companies working on the building blocks of life. Cambridge Research Biochemicals (CRB) supports discovery research activities by providing custom-made research reagents, principally peptides and antibodies. In Stockton-on-Tees, Cleveland Biotechnology has been pioneering natural solutions to handling effluents and waste materials. Further north in Sunderland and Newcastle, companies such as Novocastra, Orla Proteins, ImmunoDiagnostic Systems, Helena Bioscience, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Millipore are significant contributors to the growing strength of the industry and supply chain in the region. These success stories illustrate how the traditional skills of the region in engineering and chemistry are becoming the foundation of a new industry in North East England. This sustained growth is encouraging further developments with One NorthEast, Northumberland County Council, NEPIC and Centre of Excellence for Life Sciences collaborating in the creation of new investments for the region.
This technological revolution in is often described in terms of the 4 main areas of activity:
- Red - Biotechnology in healthcare
- White - Biotechnology for industrial products
- Green - Biotechnology applied to environmental issues
- Blue - Biotechnology based on marine organisms
Biotechnology in the healthcare sector gets a lot of recognition but there are many other significant developments. Industrial biotechnology, the application of biotechnology for industrial purposes, including manufacturing, alternative energy (or "bioenergy"), and biomaterials is being enthusiastically embraced in the region and nationally. There are many barriers to overcome before its full potential can be realised. We need to integrate disciplines such as biochemistry, microbiology, molecular genetics and process technology to develop useful processes and products, based on microbial, animal or plant cells or enzymes as biocatalysts. Here in North East England working with industry and the public sector, NEPIC is helping to develop an industry which can face up to the fierce competition from overseas.