Expert predicts downstream ‘failures’ will be focus of UK hub

By Fiona Barry

- Last updated on GMT

Expert predicts downstream ‘failures’ will be focus of UK hub

Related tags National biologics manufacturing Biotechnology

Downstream processing techs are harder to use and the focus of less innovation than systems employed upstream says the team developing the UK's new National Biologics Manufacturing Centre.

In the biologics industry there’s been little in the way of innovation,”​ Jonathan Robinson, head of Business Development at CPI (Centre for Process Innovation) told

Yes, upstream processing is seeing innovation, but on the downstream side very little has changed in the format of the technology used. Those downstream technologies are difficult to operate and subject to failures.​”

The government-funded National Biologics Manufacturing Centre (NBMC) is likely to concentrate on underdeveloped downstream technologies when it opens in March 2015, Robinson told us.

My gut feeling is we’ll have more of an emphasis on downstream processing. Basically the downstream processes are [at the moment] less robust, more problematic.”

The NBMC aims to be a place for businesses, academics, charities and regulators to solve processing problems in the biologics supply chain. CPI said its goal is to make the UK a more competitive player in the biologics industry by bridging the current gap between research and manufacturing.

Companies have come to us and said ‘we can’t take on innovation because it’s risky, but will you take it on and develop it so they become adoptable at minimum risk for us?’​” said Robinson.

Projects begin in April

CPI will break ground on the site next month, and is currently recruiting 25 process technologists with upstream and downstream experience, and five IT and automation staff.

Ahead of the centre’s scheduled opening in March 2015, the centre is in talks with several companies to begin early biologics programmes from April 2014 out of its existing Wilton, UK facility, said Robinson, “with a view to building credibility before the centre is established.

Most of the staff are skilled in biotechnology backgrounds. But we are taking on newer technologies which they will need to become familiar with – so the idea is to have them work on real-life projects as soon as possible.​”

 ‘Hub and spoke’ model

CPI’s head of Business Development told our reporter the National Biologics Manufacturing Centre (NBMC) would provide a central “hub​” for biopharma research, collaborating with existing biologics facilities, or “spokes,​” around the UK.

When we develop a centre, we don’t want to duplicate expertise and equipment that exists elsewhere in the country and is accessible to the industry,​” he said.

If it [personnel or technology needed by a client] resides in a centre of excellence – which could be a company, or a university – we would ask the client to access the technology at that spoke partner.​”

The arrangement will be “very fluid​,” he said, depending on the nature of projects. “Each spoke will have different focuses, and as needs change, a project might move on to the next facility.​”

Partnerships are still being agreed, but NBMC has said it is talking to BIA (the UK Bioindustry Association), Bioprocess UK, and the Technology Strategy Board.

Pharmaceutical clients will also be able to bring their own staff or equipment if they wish, for instance for beta-testing machinery. Robinson said some organisations will “provide in kind​” with equipment, to supplement the site’s £38m government sponsorship.

The centre is funded in part by the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst, a grant provided by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Council (BBSRC), the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for R&D collaborations between academia and business.

The centre, which in the past has worked with about 70% SMEs [small and medium enterprises], and 30% larger companies, expects to take on around 40% big pharmaceutical clients with the NBMC, said Robinson.

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