AN organisation helping develop next generation medical treatments has broken ground on a new North-East site.

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) is building the National Centre for Healthcare Photonics at Netpark, in Sedgefield, County Durham.

Bosses say the unit, expected to open in late 2018, will present the North-East as a “global hub for healthcare photonics.”

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The site will provide open access facilities to help firms and universities develop light-based technology to diagnose and monitor acute and chronic conditions.

It will help scale-up remedies for ailments such as cancer and brain injuries, and whether a skin burn can heal naturally or requires grafting.

The project has benefited from £8.3m backing from the Local Growth Fund, through the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership, and Dr Tom Harvey, CPI’s strategic programme manager for healthcare photonics, said the centre’s importance shouldn’t be underestimated.

He said: “Photonics is a key enabling technology for a range of healthcare products related to imaging, diagnostics and therapy.

“The new centre will provide expertise and facilities to help companies bring these products to market more quickly, with less risk and at lower cost, which will ultimately benefit patients.”

Phil Wilson, MP for Sedgefield, took part in the ground-breaking ceremony alongside CPI chief executive Nigel Perry, and said the building was another significant coup for the region’s commercial landscape.

He said: “The impact of the photonics centre will undoubtedly be far reaching.

“The work done here in Sedgefield, with technologies that help the diagnosis and monitoring of diseases from diabetes to cancer, can ultimately improve the lives of patients locally and much further afield.

“To have the North-East as the photonics industry global hub is fantastic.”

The centre represents another sign of CPI’s commitment to the North-East, having previously invested in bases at NetPark, Darlington and Wilton, near Redcar.

Last year, contractors broke ground on a National Formulation Centre at NetPark, which aims to support companies’ efforts to increase innovation across areas such as medicines, cosmetics and detergents.

The CPI is also ramping up work at its £38m Darlingtonbased National Biologics Manufacturing Centre in Darlington, which provides firms with technical backing to research and develop potentially life-saving cures and vaccines, including cancer treatments and therapies for rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

At Wilton, the organisation has spent money on new equipment to strengthen industrial biotechnology and biorefinery facilities, with the aim of helping smaller businesses move ideas to the commercialisation stage.