FROM the outside it is a modern university building not unlike many others; plenty of glass, sharp angles and a few saplings dotted about outside indicating its infancy.

But inside Teesside University’s new National Horizons Centre in Darlington, remarkable things are happening.

The £22.3million pound facility, which officially opened yesterday, is bringing together leading bioscience experts to work on research projects as wide-ranging as cancer medication, diseases in pregnancy and identifying the contents of street drugs.

In the words of Professor Paul Croney, vice-chancellor and chief executive of Teesside University, the centre is putting the region on the map.

“I am immensely proud,” said Prof Croney. “It is an absolutely wonderful facility, it is one of the best in the United Kingdom, if not in the world.

“It provides state-of-the-art scientific equipment, laboratories and learning equipment to research the key issues in this evolving area of bioscience in a setting which not only puts Teesside University on the map, but also puts the area of Darlington and Teesside on the map.

“To have such a facility, to have several million pounds invested in a research base that will help industry and create jobs and move our science forwards in this important field of bioscience is a tremendous achievement and I am very proud of that.”

Among the researchers based at the centre is Dr Jackie Mosely who has been working with Durham University and linking with Durham Police to research street drugs.

Last December the team held a drug amnesty in Durham city where users were able to have their street drugs tested.

They found that 20 per cent of the drugs tested were not what the users thought they were, including a drug that had never been seen on the streets before which was five times stronger than regular ketamine.

Dr Mosely said: “We put out alerts to the police and hospitals and we were able to put out social media alerts very, very quickly, so if it helps anybody who has taken the drug, that is a win.”

In the same lab, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of pounds of bioanalytical, equipment, Prof Jim Scrivens is helping to improve our understanding of molecular structures and is able to identify amounts of carcinogens in everyday foodstuffs.

He is also looking at the makeup of drugs bought from the internet, of which 50 per cent are not what they advertise themselves to be, as Prof Scrivens explains: “If it is cocaine or viagra, the worst that happens is that it doesn’t happen, but if you are buying blood pressure or cancer medication online - which people in America are increasingly doing - then the worst that can happen is death.”

In another part of the building, Dr Safwan Akran is dedicating himself to lowering the cost of treatments for life-threatening illnesses such as cancer.

He explains that one drug currently available, Spinraza, to treat spinal muscular atrophy, costs a staggering $750,000 for the first injection, with a further injection of $350,000 required every year as long as the patient survives.

“No healthcare can afford that,” says Dr Akran. “Obviously we don’t want to put a value on human life, however, if healthcare systems can’t afford it , it is even worse in the sense that you are looking at the patients saying ‘sorry we have the treatment but your life is not worth it'.

“You can’t say that to patients, you can’t say it to those families.”

Dr Akran says that although the blame for the high prices is often laid on greedy pharmaceutical companies, that isn't the whole story.

He explains that the processing costs of treatments can be high and 20-year patents create a monopolies, but his research project is looking at bringing process costs down and working with the pharmaceutical industry to do it.

Also looking into disease research is Professor Vikki Rand who is analysing cancer treatments for children and striving to develop kinder methods.

Her work involves hospitals in Malawi, collaborations with India and Pakistan and clinical trials across Europe.

The global experts are learning from each other to develop less toxic treatments and to try and overcome the challenges in accessing healthcare in lower income countries.

At the same time, a team on the first floor are working on the multi-million pound Thyme Project which is looking at converting industrial sites for bio-based manufacturing.

The team has also developed a VR training system to allow researchers to 'virtually' use the equipment without the real-world consequences of costly mistakes. "We're helping avoid million dollar errors," joked Dr Geoff Archer.

And as Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen officially declared the facility open on Friday, it was clear for all to see that Darlington does in fact boast a university building like no other.