I recently attended an event where the discussion was around Advanced Manufacturing and its definition. Unsurprisingly, there was hot debate. My own contribution was around brains versus brawn; advanced manufacturing is when the competitive advantage is based around the ‘brains’ or innovation of products and processes rather than the cost of the ‘brawn’ or costs of manufacture.
Manufacturing remains a key contributor to the regional and national economy. Well positioned with excellent air and sea links to Europe, through two airports and three ports, we remain well connected in the UK through the road and rail network. It could be better and parts of the A1 are ‘frustrating’ , however, anyone who has spent any time on M25 will concede that it’s a countrywide problem.
The workforce is experienced in a variety of manufacturing industries and the most efficient car plant in Europe is based in the Northeast. So, that’s the brawn -but where is the brains?
We are very good at hiding our light in the North East. As well as a strength and depth in industrial heritage, from coal to ships to steel to chemicals, there are some significant inventions originating from the North East of England; the friction match, the incandescent light bulb, the development of Perspex, the first house powered by hydro-electric power.
And Newcastle University was the first University in the UK and only the second in Europe to be granted a licence to undertake stem cell research, resulting in the development of pioneering techniques and therapies, which have the potential in the future to transform lives.
Newcastle is just one of five Universities in the North East; Teeside, Durham, Northumbria and Sunderland all have significant research programmes and departments that have spawned a significant number of spin-outs such as Kromek.
Brains and brawn then. And that is why, for almost a century, there has been a critical mass of Pharma and Chemical companies based and growing in the region. The Pharmaceutical sector is facing significant challenges; healthcare budgets are being squeezed at a time when the costs of R&D are increasing. With the shift away from small molecule, chemical-based therapies to large molecule, biological solutions, the infrastructure, methods of manufacture and technology, the challenge now is not only to find solutions that show efficacy, but to then be able to transfer them from the scientists bench-top to patients in an economically viable way.
That is why the Pharma sector in the North East continues to grow. Whether it is home-grown spinouts utilising university research, or global players investing in expanded capabilities and facilities (such as GSK at Barnard Castle), we have created a critical mass of brains and brawns perfectly located to access the UK, Europe and ROW.