A TRAINING facility specialising in the technology used to create the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines is being launched in the North East later this year.

The new facility will expand capacity at the Centre for Process Innovation(CPI) in Darlington, which has been working with the UK Vaccine Taskforce since the start of the pandemic, and is expected to be ready in November.

The new national training academy will be led in partnership between CPI and the National Horizons Centre, in Central Park, which is part of Teesside University, and will offer courses in the development and manufacture of RNA.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA (messenger RNA) which carry instructions that tell the body to produce a specific tool that can be used to fight disease.

As well as coronavirus, such technology can be used in the treatment of HIV, cancer and heart disease, scientists at the centre have said.

Dr Lucy Foley, director of Biologics at CPI described the use of RNA as a "much neater way" of making a treatment or a vaccine, and branded it a "real game-changer".

She said: "I think that industry is really shining a light on RNA and these chemically synthesised products now, saying 'these are much, much faster to manufacture, if we can get the cost of goods down, this is a much more promising way to treat disease in the future'."

Compared with conventional vaccines, which are produced using weakened forms of the virus, mRNAs use only the genetic code of the virus. This means the rate at which doses can be produced is speeded up.

CPI said it is the only company based in the UK capable of developing, manufacturing and encapsulating RNA vaccines ready for use in clinical trials in one location.

They said their facility in Darlington is being built in such a way as to allow it to be quickly increased in size to cope with emerging pandemics or infectious disease threats, if needed.

Dr Foley added: "Having established itself as a breakthrough technology during the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to be prepared with the skills and facilities to support this emerging RNA industry."

"Both the RNA Centre of Excellence and training academy will support the development of new licensed RNA products for the treatment of many different diseases.

"This is fantastic news for the biopharmaceutical industry, and for human health."

Dr Jen Vanderhoven, director at the National Horizons Centre, said: "With research, partnerships and training at our core, the NHC brings together industry, academia, talent and world-class facilities to create real-world impact. The global pandemic has shown the vital role that our sector plays, and it is important that we remain agile and responsive to ensure the UK remains a global life sciences leader."

"We are delighted to partner on this world-leading collaboration, deepening our strategic partnership with CPI, to ensure the UK bioindustry has the future skilled workforce it needs."

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “Throughout the coronavirus pandemic scientists, researchers and biologists across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool have been  on the frontline of the battle against the virus.

“Fujifilm Diosynth are already manufacturing 60million doses of the Novavax vaccine at their state-of-the-art facility in Billingham,  and Redcar-based Absolute Antibody is conducting world leading research and continues to play a leading role in the fight against Covid-19.

“The new centre of excellence and training facility announced my CPI will further cement our region as a leading centre for life sciences and biologics. It will supercharge our already amazing offering to the worlds biggest pharmaceutical companies and will mean more highly skilled, well paid jobs being created. 

“Traditionally when people thing of cutting edge biotech research they things of the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London, but now people in industry and government are taking Teesside seriously when it comes to creating life saving research and medical innovations that will save the lives of millions of people around the world.”

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