U.K. starts on $85M cell manufacturing facility at sensitive time

The U.K. is moving forward with a £55 million ($85 million) cell manufacturing facility it is supporting in an effort to boost biotech capabilities in the country. It comes at a crucial juncture for the country, which has seen its drug manufacturing shrink to the point that it now imports more pharma products than it exports.

The government-funded Cell Therapy Catapult is taking bids for the 80,000-square-foot, £20 million ($30.1 million) building on the Stevenage Bioscience campus about 53 km (33 miles) north of London, Construction Enquirer reports. The building will include room for clean rooms, manufacturing support and administration.

When the facility opens in 2017 it is expected to employ 150 people and allow for large-scale manufacturing of late-phase clinical trial and commercial supply of biologic and cell-based drugs. Officials have projected the facility could produce about £1.2 billion ($1.8 billion) worth of product by 2020, but 80% of that will come from companies outside the U.K.

U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable

"This state of the art facility in Stevenage will ensure Britain can be a real leader in this industry," U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable said when the announcement was made in December.

A survey in 2013 identified limited cell therapy manufacturing and supply chain infrastructure as holding the U.K. back in developing new therapies. Cell Therapy Catapult is part of a consortium working on a therapy which modifies patients' T cells to hunt down cancer.

The center is one of several efforts being pushed by the government to scratch out a place for the U.K. in biologic drug development and manufacturing. Last year it also announced a £38 million ($63.8 million) investment to create the National Biologics Manufacturing Centre in Darlington.

The efforts come at a sensitive time for the U.K. pharma industry. A new report from the Office for National Statistics said that in 2013, a significant drop in drug manufacturing in the U.K. led to the country becoming a net importer of pharma products for the first time in about 15 years. Drug production is down about 25% in the last 5 years, the Financial Times reports, as large drugmakers have closed plants and cut production in the face of patent losses on once top-selling drugs.

- read the Construction Enquirer report
- here's more from the Financial Times (sub. req.)