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Business & Economy

County Durham firms add expertise to COVID-19 fight

A number of County Durham companies are playing a pivotal role in helping combat coronavirus.

Four firms based on Sedgefield’s NETPark are working on innovative projects aimed at developing a vaccine to fight COVID-19, as well as increased personal protection against the virus and measures to improve earlier detection.

Furthermore, chemicals firm INEOS has opened a hand sanitiser manufacturing plant at its Newton Aycliffe base, while industry face mask maker 3M – also based on Newton Aycliffe Business Park – is doubling global output of respirators for frontline healthcare workers.

At NETPark, REPROCELL Europe, Graphene Composites, Stream Bio and Kromek are all adding their expertise to the fight against COVID-19.

REPROCELL Europe, which specialises in tools and products for stem cell and 3D cell culture research, has joined a consortium with partners in North America and Europe to develop a vaccine for the virus.

Dr David Bunton, chief executive of REPROCELL Europe, said: “We are pleased to support an international consortium, led by the Belgian life sciences company eTheRNA, which is developing an RNA-based vaccine.”

Elsewhere, Graphene Composites has worked on a graphene ink that can be applied to face masks and other personal protective equipment to kill the virus, with a number of other companies now offering their support for the venture.

Stream Bio Ltd, which develops and manufactures fluorescent molecular probes used for labelling antibodies, hopes its probes – that increase the sensitivity of antibody testing, enabling earlier detection – can be used in the fight against coronavirus.

Finally, Kromek Group – known for its flagship D3S family of products that can identify terror threats such as ‘dirty bombs’, is working on a mobile pathogen detection system capable of detecting biological threats such as COVID-19.

NETPark is managed by Business Durham, the economic development arm of Durham County Council, and interim managing director Sarah Slaven said she was delighted to see some of the site’s firms add their knowledge to combating the coronavirus pandemic.

She said: “These businesses are demonstrating tremendous agility, adaptability and innovation.

“They have the technical knowledge, resources and the manufacturing skills to help produce much needed technology and products, which will hopefully help alleviate some of the pressure from other national suppliers and help protect the NHS.

“We are playing our part in tackling the coronavirus outbreak to help protect our communities, our businesses and our workforce in County Durham.”

Janet Todd, NETPark manager at Business Durham, added: “It’s great to see NETPark companies are looking at innovative ways to fight COVID-19 and proactively seeking out collaborative opportunities.

“We wish them well.”

Ineos’ Newton Aycliffe hand sanitiser manufacturing plant is expected to produce one million bottles of sterilant every month.

Bosses say the sanitiser is already being issued free to the NHS, with plans in place to supply pocket bottle versions for personal use.

Ineos is making its sterilant from raw materials it already produces for other operations at bases in Scotland and Germany.

A further production plant in Germany has also begun manufacturing, with proposals drawn up for a third site in France.