The UK has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure its own manufacturing capability of modern medicines in the wake of global pharmaceutical giant GSK announcing it is set to end 73 years of production at a plant in northern England.
That’s the view of Lakes BioScience, formed from a team of UK industry experts, which has already announced its own plans to build, commission and qualify a £350m biomanufacturing plant to produce monoclonal antibodies on a site just yards from GSK’s factory in Ulverston, which would create 250 high-value, high-tech jobs.
GSK announced yesterday it is set to close its site in Ulverston with the final 100-plus jobs from what was once a 2,000 plus workforce set to be lost unless an alternative use is found for the factory.
Pat McIver, a Lakes BioScience director, said GSK’s announcement meant it was now an urgent priority for the UK to secure its own resilient supply of modern medicines, and also provide high-value, high-tech jobs in the north.
Mr McIver said: “GSK’s announcement that it is set to end 73 years of production at Ulverston is hugely disappointing for the UK, for the north, and for Ulverston.
“For the UK to ensure its resilience in the supply of front line medicines now is the time to push forward and ensure that as a country we transition to new modern medicine manufacturing.
“GSK’s announcement that they will close their plant in 2025 unless they find an alternative use for the factory makes it even more urgent that we make this transition before it is too late, and before those skills and our capability in the UK is lost forever.”
Lakes BioScience is due to build its plant on disused land owned by GSK which the company pledged to donate to the community for economic development after plans to to build a new biopharmaceutical factory on the site, announced during a visit to Ulverston by then Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012, were dropped in 2017.
Lakes BioScience has lodged its plans with South Lakeland District Council and is awaiting planning approval.
The company has the funding in place and once it receives its first major order, and when planning permission is approved, it aims to start work on the site.
Mr McIver said: “The global and national situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need is greater than ever for the type of site in the UK which Lakes BioScience will deliver.
“What the pandemic has taught us is that we need to grow our manufacturing capability in the UK so when something like the COVID-19 pandemic happens we are better placed to respond to it in the future.
“COVID-19 has really tested us as a country. We have seen some great things being done in response, just look at the work on vaccines.
“But what we need is the manufacturing capability so we are less exposed and so we have a better chance to respond.
“Lakes BioScience will build on a rich regional and national capability and create high-value jobs in Ulverston in a fast-growing sector to deliver life-changing and life-saving treatments.
“Our ambition is to be a world leading biopharmaceutical contract development and manufacturing organisation and we have the people and the know-how, here in the UK, to make that happen.”
The proposals have been submitted to South Lakeland District Council.
GSK, which has operated from its Ulverston plant since 1948, has revealed that it has sold its cephalosporin antibiotics business to Sandoz, and is likely to close the Cumbrian factory in about four years.
A statement from GSK said: “At that time and in the absence of any alternative, it would be GSK’s proposal to close its cephalosporins manufacturing operations at Ulverston, Cumbria and the Zinnat building, Barnard Castle, County Durham.” Manufacture of other products at Barnard Castle would not be affected.
The firm, which now employs in excess of 100 people at Ulverston from a peak of more than 2,000, said: “GSK is providing support to potentially affected employees and is committed to supporting the local communities affected by the potential closure of manufacturing facilities in the longer term.”