June 1, 2020
When Tony Blair opened the NETPark Research Institute in July 2004, it was far from a routine press call.
Returning to his then Sedgefield parliamentary constituency as Prime Minister, his visit marked a crucial early chapter in a journey to create a thriving County Durham science, technology and engineering hub that would make a statement on the global stage.
Today, NETPark – managed by Business Durham, the economic development arm of Durham County Council – is a globally-recognised research and development hub, where firms crystallise cutting-edge findings and collaborate with world-class businesses, universities and entrepreneurs to accelerate the commercialisation of ground-breaking research and development.
Indeed, a recent report from national organisation the Campaign for Science and Engineering highlighted NETPark and Business Durham as an excellent example of local leadership.
The site – whose tenants provide hundreds of jobs – is the UK’s only science park with two Government-supported national Catapult centres.
The High Value Manufacturing Catapult catalyses fresh growth across the sector, with the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence working with the UK and European Space Agencies to help companies progress.
NETPark also houses the CPI-run formulation, printable electronics and healthcare photonics national innovation centres, which are intertwined with Government strategy.
Furthermore, its £7.6 million Explorer buildings – backed by multi-million-pound support from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) – provide advanced clean room, laboratory and office space for growing UK operators.
However, the site gained further repute recently when a number of occupiers pivoted to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
ReViral, known for work on a treatment for Respiratory Syncytial Virus that affects children and the elderly, has set up a not-for-profit business called Collaborative Company Against Coronavirus, CIC.
Working with a world-leading anti-viral team at the University of Leuven, in Belgium, the newly formed company says its work could identify effective inhibitors of coronavirus and other strains of the illness within two years.
REPROCELL Europe, which works in stem cell and 3D cell culture research, joined a consortium with partners in North America and Europe to develop a vaccine for the virus.
Graphene Composites worked on graphene ink for face masks and personal protective equipment to kill the virus.
Kromek, the AIM-listed Durham University technology spin-out whose detectors are used worldwide to identify terror threats, revealed plans to make thousands of ventilators for UK and international markets and develop a mobile pathogen detection system.
Championing the responses, Sarah Slaven, Business Durham managing director, says the firms’ actions provide just a snapshot into NETPark’s eminence.
“NETPark is a thriving community where businesses work collaboratively and enhance innovative solutions,” she says.
“Many of the companies on NETPark have adapted and used their knowledge and experience to tackle the challenges COVID-19 has brought.”
The companies’ responses, says Sarah, have also helped highlight NETPark to prospective occupiers.
The addition to the park earlier in the year of Nightingale sleep aid developer Kunasan, the recent arrival of Magnitude Biosciences, which carries out pre-clinical assay services for age related conditions and drug development, and a collaboration between tenants Quality Hospital Solutions and PragmatIC, all demonstrate the strength of the scientific community at NETPark.
“The cluster here is fantastic,” says Sarah.
“Our tenants range from the likes of Kromek, which has its own facility, through to innovative start-ups in the Incubator.
“The presence of CPI and the Catapult centres provide a link to the latest Government policy and highlight NETPark to a national audience.
“Kunasan could have gone anywhere,” continues Sarah, “but it says a lot about NETPark that founder Paul Mawson chose to base the business here.
“Magnitude Biosciences is ready to take its next step and moving here will enable it to increase its operational capacity.
Sarah adds: “Andrew Turner, of Quality Hospital Solutions, was introduced to printable electronics firm PragmatIC by NETPark manager Janet Todd after developing a new and more efficient way of transporting medical specimen samples.
“PragmatIC was able to help with the technology he needed.”
The progressive environment Sarah refers to is reiterated by previously-announced plans to develop an additional 26 acres of land at NETPark.
Access roads and infrastructure have already been created, and Sarah says extending the site will further strengthen the local economy, skills base and the park’s standing as a scientific and technological nurturing ground.
“We have great space, we are always looking to improve, and the expansion will help that by delivering larger units for both new investors and growing companies already here,” says Sarah.
“It is important we bring high-quality jobs here, but it’s equally important we retain talent too.
“A lot of talented students come to the region’s universities and it is essential for the future success of the region that we keep them, their skills and their businesses here in County Durham.
“The investment in NETPark’s expansion shows Durham County Council and NELEP are committed to the ongoing development of the science park,” adds Sarah.
“There are 32 innovative companies already based on the park providing more than 550 highly- skilled jobs, but the scope for further growth is immense; there is great potential going forward.”