NHC helping region become centre for Covid excellence

The director of a £22m state-of-the-art bioscience facility in Darlington is thrilled with the part our region is playing in the fight against Covid-19 and other diseases.

Dr Jen Vanderhoven is director of the Teesside University-run National Horizons Centre (NHC) which is helping to train staff at Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies as the Billingham firm hits the ground running in their production of the Novavax vaccine – hopefully available as part of the nation’s booster jabs from August.

“The recent success that the Tees Valley has had with Covid and responding to the pandemic shows just how important and influential it is in this area,” said Jen.

“As well as the developments at Fujifilm, we have had clinical trials here and there is GSK in Barnard Castle ,who are putting the vaccine into vials, so it’s the full supply chain right here on our doorstep.

“It’s really put the Tees Valley on the map.”

Speaking to Tees Business executive editor Dave Allan on the Jacksons Law Firm-sponsored online Q&A Talking Business, Jen was full of praise for the way our bioscience community has come together in the face of adversity and thrilled with how the NHC has come into its own.

“It’s been a great outcome locally, nationally and possibly even internationally as we continue to move forward in our fight against Covid,” she said.

“At the NHC, we have three core pillars to everything we do – research, partnership and training.

“We try to discover diseases earlier, find novel treatments and then deliver them to those in need quicker, safer and more affordably.

“It’s not only about the Covid vaccine, but a whole host of different medicines which are having a great impact on patients’ lives. It’s cutting-edge stuff and it’s really exciting that it is happening here in the Tees Valley.”

Though only in her role since September last year, Jen has some big ambitions for the NHC, where she is responsible for leading its establishment and development as a centre of excellence for the biosciences sector.

“We want the NHC to be financially sustainable,” she said. “We want to be bringing in income that the university can use to further its ambitions and, most importantly, in 12 to 24 months we want to be able to turn around and say ‘Look at the impact we have created’ – whether that’s with lives that have been saved or extended, or whether it’s about training people and sharing best practice.”

With the excitement and positivity surrounding the sector, does Jen see the Tees region benefiting long term from increased job opportunities?

“Absolutely! The area is definitely becoming a hub now for biotechnology and it will definitely be a growth industry for jobs in the area.

“I can’t explain how excited I am about the potential for biomanufacturing and science in the Tees Valley.

“If there’s anything good to come out of Covid at all then it’s the fact that the pandemic has highlighted the fact that we do have the skills and the capabilities in the Tees Valley to respond to national needs.”

And she goes one step further.

“I like to think we can take on Oxford and Cambridge, who are considered the golden triangle of science in the UK. I’d like to see Tees Valley begin to rival that in the future – and I think we can!“

• Talking Business is sponsored by Jacksons Law Firm – an award-winning law firm that’s been working with business owners and private clients to help them achieve their goals, in Teesside and beyond, for more than 140 years.