WITH a major investment in an advanced manufacturing facility the future is looking incredibly bright for GlaxoSmithKline’s site in County Durham.
The £92m announced for the pharmaceutical giant’s rural Barnard Castle premises is part of a £275m investment spread across three of GSK’s nine UK manufacturing sites.
Alastair Leighton, site director at Barnard Castle – one of the biggest pharmaceutical manufacturing sites in the UK – said: “The UK is tremendously important to GSK and there’s been a strong commitment with the new investment. We’re building a factory for the next 20-30 years and it will be built in readiness for a whole pipeline of products.”
GSK has been a major presence in Barnard Castle since 1945 when it first opened in a former Penicillin factory. The site was ideal – a wide swathe of land, next to a river, and with good transport infrastructure. It was also far enough away from the bigger cities that it wouldn’t be vulnerable to enemy attack during the war.
In the 1960s, the company developed new antibiotics and, with a new factory in the 1980s, went on to develop steroidal dermatological treatments for conditions such as Psoriasis. In the early 1990s, the Barnard Castle site expanded into sterile manufacturing, making liquids which could be injected into the body.
As the company has developed, it has become a major employer in County Durham, with generations of the same family working for the company. Alastair, who cycles into the office from home, said: “It’s really interesting to see the number of people who have worked at Barnard Castle on a tour of duty and then they’ve stayed here. The lifestyle is great and you can have a very rewarding career.
“The size of the site means GSK can offer myriad career opportunities both to apprentices and graduates. Many of the apprenticeships (there are currently 32) are in advanced manufacturing but we also offer opportunities in surprising areas, such as graphic design. We have a centralised artwork hub here in Barnard Castle where more than 75 staff design packaging for products such as Zovirax, Panadol and Sensodyne. It is creative but it’s also done to a very high level of rigour. We also recruit graduates into the lab areas and develop them internally.”
The announcement of the multi-million pound investment in the County Durham site represents further significant development into the large biopharmaceuticals market. Around £500m has been invested in the Barnard Castle site over the last four years. The site supplies nearly half a million packs of products per day to 140 global markets.
GSK has a significant manufacturing presence in the UK, employing nearly 6,000 people. The company views the UK as an attractive location for investment in advanced manufacturing due to a number of factors including the skilled workforce, technological and scientific capabilities & infrastructure and a competitive corporate tax system. This includes the Patent Box, which encourages investment in R&D and related manufacturing in the UK by delivering a lower rate of corporation tax on profits generated from UK-owned intellectual property.
Said Alastair: “Barnard Castle has become a real hub of the skilled resources we need. One of the things we’ve developed over the years has been not just to manufacture these drugs but to develop new ones. It can be quite a technical challenge to formulate a medicine for the first time – there’s a lot of rigour to go through to make sure the products are ready to launch. We spend a great deal of time attracting the right kind of people and investing in their future by developing their potential.”
The investment will fund the construction of an aseptic sterile facility which will support the manufacture of existing and new biopharmaceutical assets in its pipeline. It will bring hundreds of jobs in construction, engineering and design.
The company is looking to break ground in early 2017 and be manufacturing new aseptic material by 2018. By 2020-21 it expects to be routinely manufacturing drugs and will have one manufacturing line with room for two more.
Adds Alastair: “We recognise that the skill base is here and our job is to get these innovative medicines from the lab to patients as soon as possible. The best way to do that is to have a solid skills infrastructure.
“It’s about a long term commitment to advanced manufacturing and creating the kind of career opportunities that people want. There are generations of families who have come through here and we want to see that continue.”