North East England driving growth of life sciences sector in the UK

With two internationally renowned science parks, the UK’s largest research active public health system, and world leading knowledge and talent at our universities, it’s no surprise North East England is widely recognised as one of the leading destinations for advancements in health and life sciences.

Our region’s innovation eco-system and translation environment is recognised by some of the industry’s leading figures for its current assets and future potential.

Professor Sir John Bell, author of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy report to Government and former President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, commented: “The North East has a diverse and vibrant clustering of life sciences, manufacturing and health services. I believe that the work that is being done in the North East can support more growth in the region and make a strong contribution to a wider UK initiative to promote research collaboration, partnership and investment globally as part of government’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy.”

Health and life sciences is one of four areas of strategic importance identified by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership in its Strategic Economic Plan, which outlines how the region will grow its economy and create more and better jobs. We believe our strengths in the sector will help answer some of the grand challenges we face as a society and deliver a stronger regional and national economy.

A key part of our role as the North East LEP is to create the economic conditions to support and enable businesses to flourish. This includes bringing the health and life sciences ecosystem together and investing in key assets, facilities and services that support its growth.

Through the Local Growth Fund, we have invested in significant projects at both our region’s science parks. At NETPark in County Durham, the creation of two new Explorer buildings has provided more high-quality office and laboratory space. The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) has also opened two new National Centres to help health and life sciences businesses bring their products to market.

In Newcastle at the landmark Newcastle Helix science park, the North East LEP invested £8.6m in the creation of The Biosphere, a life sciences centre for research and development and business incubation. Biosphere is located alongside the UK National Innovation Centre for Ageing (co-located with the National Innovation Centre for Data) and is another example of why North East England is one of the most important hubs for the UK’s growing health and life sciences sector.

Because of our health and life sciences assets, including research and translation capability and expertise, the North East is attracting significant private and public sector investment. The region’s booming pharma manufacturing cluster continues to invest here. For example global pharmaceutical company, Accord Healthcare, opened a new facility in Newcastle in 2018 which is currently expanding.

We’re facilitating and supporting a number of game-changing projects across the North East too. SmartMeds, for example, is a project led by the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) seeking to harness the region’s expertise in the development of smart and intelligent packaging of medicines, smart medical devices and drug delivery.

Our Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) is driving the development of the UK leading Great North Care Record, a digital platform that gives NHS health professionals access to the GP held medical records of 3.6 million people living in the North East and North Cumbria. The initiative aims to improve healthcare by ensuring clinicians have the information they need to make the best choices about treatments. Future developments will have the ability to radically transform our capability to research and develop personalised treatments, firmly positioning the North East as the UK leader.

Our Northern Alliance Advanced Therapies Treatment Centre, a consortium of twenty industry, NHS and academic organisations – led by Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – will develop best practice for safe and effective delivery of advanced therapies to patients. Alongside SmartMeds, the North East aims to lead the increase of patient access to advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) regionally and nationally.

Skills and talent are imperative to the success of the sector, so the North East LEP also works closely with our region’s schools, colleges and universities, as well as delivering a range of programmes, to develop our future workforce and raise the profile of the vast range of career opportunities across the sector. There are over 100,000 students studying STEM subjects in the North East and our universities are rated some of best in the world for research and innovation.

Another significant strength here in the North East is our outstanding and innovation-driven healthcare system, with a strong and high-performing clinical trials community. North East Health Trusts have an exemplary track record for involvement in clinical research and clinical trials with Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust ranked as one of the leading Trusts in the UK.

Some of the biggest challenges we face as a society will be answered by the work currently taking place in the North East. Government has recognised our research expertise and capabilities in ageing as one of the country’s specialist hubs and the North East is at the centre of addressing this challenge by developing, testing and producing a range of new innovative products, services and treatments designed to help us age well.

The North East’s health and life sciences ecosystem is fast becoming a global player and its focus on R&D, innovation and commercialisation will see it grow the region’s economy and create more and better jobs for people living and working here.By Katherine Forbes, Health and Life Sciences Programme Lead at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP).