A NATIONAL centre of excellence at Teesside University is helping people ‘go far while staying local’.

Director of Teesside University’s National Horizons Centre, Dr Jen Vanderhoven, said: “It was just a scribbled note on a whiteboard left over from an outreach session we held with local children at the National Horizons Centre exploring reasons to go into a career in life sciences in the Tees Valley.

“However, the phrase ‘Go Far, Stay Local’ resonated with Michael Gove, when the newly-appointed Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spotted it as he toured our facility in Darlington as part of his visit to the region last week.

“In his interview with The Northern Echo following the visit, he described how the message aligned with the work he was doing trying to deliver the Government’s levelling-up agenda.

“Here at the National Horizons Centre, we are leading the way in research, education and collaboration in the bioscience industry, one of the Tees Valley’s most vital and growing sectors, to increase the health, wealth and future prosperity of the region and its population.

“The Tees Valley population suffers from significant health inequalities, with people’s life expectancy being lower than the UK average. Targeting the causes of death which contribute most to this gap, specifically cancer which is the largest cause, will have the biggest impact on reducing inequalities.

“At the National Horizons Centre, we are tackling this head on, through our partnerships with the local NHS England trusts, linking clinicians in the hospitals with Teesside University’s world leading researchers – ultimately finding ways to discover diseases earlier, develop novel treatments and deliver life-saving medicines quicker, safer and more affordably.

“Our Research Director, Professor Vikki Rand leads our biosciences and healthcare research teams, bringing industry, healthcare organisations and academia together. Professor Rand’s own research has a focus on applying cutting-edge approaches to understand the biology of children and adult cancers in order to develop new, kinder treatment strategies.

“Professor John Young’s work into smart wearables is also tackling major causes of death in the region, such as kidney failure and cardiovascular disease. He is developing new technologies allowing patients to measure their potassium levels in real time, from their own homes. In people with kidney and heart problems it is vital that potassium levels stay within very tight limits; if they drop too low, it causes comas, and if it goes to high, it leads to heart attacks.

“Professor Young is also tackling prevalent and impactful diseases of the urinary tract - creating new devices that enable early diagnosis, discovering new drug targets and developing educational resources for patients, carers and healthcare professionals.

“Dr Safwan Akram’s research involves working in collaboration with local pharmaceutical companies to bring down the cost of medicines.

Education inequalities are also an issue in the region, with academic achievement in the region being well below average, and 12% of the adult population have no formal qualifications. Therefore, it is vital that we increase the educational opportunities and aspirations of the region’s future workforce.

"Developing the capacity of the region’s life science workforce is one way to tackle this. Pay in this sector is consistently above the national average and in the north of England we have the infrastructure and biomanufacturing skills and knowledge to rival anywhere in the UK, if not the world.

"We need to encourage more young people to take up the opportunities a career in the life sciences can bring. Our outreach STEM programme, Life Sciences Manufacturing Academy and novel apprenticeships, all offer routes into a career in Life Sciences, here in the Tees Valley.

"Biotech jobs in Teesside provide an opportunity to work in our amazing local organisations with a global footprint such as FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, GlaxoSmithKline, CPI, Hart Biologics and many more.

"We are also helping train the future biomanufacturing workforce through our Continuing Professional Development courses to upskill those in the biotech industry and cross skill those in declining sectors such as chemical processing and oil and gas, into biotech roles that will spearhead the revolution of green growth and enable Net Zero in the Tees Valley.

To increase the region’s productivity and create economic impact, we are working with local organisations, such as Quorn and Calysta, to increase their product output and optimise their processes.

Everything we do here is about public and patient benefit, driving economic activity to the region and improving the population’s heath, wealth and future prospects.

Previously, the story of our region has, all too often, been one where young people have travelled to the South of England to pursue opportunity.

"As Michael Gove proved when he learned about National Horizons Centre, here in the Tees Valley we are a region which delivers global impact.”