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Investment to boost North East plant

Tuesday 15 January 2013 6:00

The Japanese owner of a Teesside biotech firm has set aside £14.5m to invest in new infrastructure at its North East site as it looks to step up the plant’s commercial performance.

Billingham-based Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies (FDB) was formed in 2011 when Japanese digital giant Fujifilm acquired MSD Biologics UK for a rumoured £300m.

In the last 12 months the company has increased its headcount by 60 to 550 but – according to its first financial report since the takeover – it made an operating loss of £18.3m in the 15 months to the end of March 2012.

This compares to a profit of £15.7m at the plant in 2010 but the figures are skewed by “an exceptional item”, the company said, while other takeover-related disruptions such as the interruption in marketing also impacted on sales in the period.

However the company said it now remains buoyant, with a “substantially improved sales trend” since the takeover and Steve Bagshaw, managing director at the Billingham site, told BQ: “We are very positive about the outlook for the Billingham plant.

“Biotechnology-based medicines continue to show worldwide growth and we are one of only a handful international companies who have the expertise, track record and facilities to develop and manufacture these”.

Much of the firm’s positive outlook stems from its plans to invest in new infrastructure at the plant to position it in a number of lucrative markets.

FDB makes a key active ingredient used in biotech based pharmaceuticals and lists among its customers international biotech and pharmaceutical firms.

There are two key technology platforms for making such medicines – either using a microbial process or using mammalian cells.

Through its history back to its days as part of ICI, the plant has traditionally focused on microbial methods, but it now plans to expand its technological capabilities in mammalian cell based systems – an area where significant growth is being seen.

It has secured a £14.5m loan facility to fuel the development of what it calls a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) manufacturing facility in at the Billingham plant.

GMP is the highest standard for making pharma products and the development of the new facility will be coupled with investment into “expanded and improved” research and development capabilities.

A company spokesperson said: “The new facility and supporting R&D investment will be utilising mammalian cell culture technology.  As this technology is new to us at Billingham, [increased investment] is allowing us to purchase the latest, state-of-the art equipment and supporting technologies.”

In October 2012 the factory achieved its second commercially marketed success since it became FDB when its client ThromboGenics received approval from US authorities to sell its JETREA eye condition treatment product in the USA.