A £38M healthcare centre of excellence will provide a base for North-East medical leaders to oversee a pioneering drug-making project.

The Centre for Process Innovation’s (CPI) National Biologics Manufacturing Centre is supporting a consortium aimed at developing a more efficient medicine manufacturing system.

Drug company GlaxoSmith- Kline, which runs a plant in Barnard Castle, County Durham, and Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies UK, which has sites in Billingham, near Stockton, and the Wilton Centre, near Redcar, are also taking part in the scheme.

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Officials say the programme, backed by £4.5m funding from agency Innovate UK, will allow the medical industry to flex more easily against changing market demands.

The Darlington-based CPI site, which opened in 2015 following Government support, is known for helping organisations research potentially life-saving cures and vaccines and take their concepts to the market place.

According to its latest work, the centre will provide space for all laboratory work in the project, with Allergan Biologics, Medimmune and Pall Europe, which will provide equipment, other members of the consortium.

Mark Bustard, CPI biologics’ business development director, said: “As the biologics industry moves to drive the cost of complex therapies down and increase productivity, continuous processing is becoming a key area of interest.

“While other manufacturing sectors are already using continuous processing effectively, it is not being widely used in the biologics industry.

With the expertise assembled within this consortium, we believe a significant contribution will be made to the way the industry manufactures biologics.”

Speaking to The Northern Echo earlier this year, Frank Millar, operations director at the CPI centre, confirmed bosses were speaking to potential partners over a fresh raft of research programmes after “building up a head of steam”.

The CPI brought the venture to Darlington after choosing the town ahead of other UK sites, including science powerhouse Cambridge, and Mr Millar said the ongoing response to its work shows the decision was a correct one.

He said: “The choice of Darlington has proven to be an excellent success.

“As a consequence of the building being here, we have got job potential and are continuing our work on collaborations in the heart of the town. In the first year, we have built up a head of steam and we are now on with securing work for the next few years.

“We have been successful but we cannot stand still.”