BUSINESS leaders and an MP have met to see how they can support the possible expansion of a pharmaceutical factory in the region.

Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman has held a meeting with members of the North East Chamber of Commerce, the County Durham Development Company, unions and council leaders to discuss how they can help the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) factory at Barnard Castle, County Durham.

The plant employs about 1,000 people and hopes are high that the factory can further expand in coming years, potentially providing hundreds of jobs.

The Barnard Castle site has now been identified as a possible location for GSK's intended investment in a new biopharmaceutical plant where groundbreaking drugs which target very specific illnesses are produced.

Other sites that are also being considered by GSK for the plant are Irvine and Montrose in Scotland, plus Ulverston in Cumbria.

The decision on location will not be made until the end of this year, with construction and commissioning taking about five years to complete.

GSK has invested over 80m at Barnard Castle since 2006, and the company plans to spend a further 25m in 2011 upgrading and investing in buildings and machinery.

Mrs Goodman said: "We want to continue to work with GSK to show that that we have the skill and expertise in the area and the infrastructure that would support the continued growth of the Barnard Castle plant.

"I will be working with partners in the County to help GSK locally put together the strongest possible for the future growth at Barnard Castle."

As a result of the acquisition of Stiefel by GSK in July 2009, the Barnard Castle plant is now dealing with a large number of Steifel products, due to its recognition as a centre of excellence for topicals manufacturing.

Andy Cockroft, site director at Barnard Castle, said: "We've got fantastic people here and we are all proud of the site's achievements in attracting new business.

"We would love to be successful in attracting this additional opportunity for further new investment in biopharmaceuticals into the site and County Durham".

James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: " GSK is important because it builds upon the skills that we have at universities in the North East, particularly Durham and Newcastle and the potential for a new plant will bring more high end jobs and encourage more contracts into the supply chain. The factory makes high value products which adds to our export expertise."