Proposed pharma plant could create 250 jobs and protect existing skills

Pat McIver

Plans have been revealed to create a new pharmaceutical plant in Cumbria capable of employing 250 staff.

This week it was announced that drugs giant GSK is to close an existing site in Ulverston, which opened in 1948, within the next four years leading to the loss of 130 jobs. At its height the plant employed 2,000 staff.

It follows the sale by GSK of its cephalosporin antibiotics business to Sandoz.

However, new company Lake BioScience is proposing what it calls is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for the UK to secure its own manufacturing capability of modern medicines with its plans for a plot of land close to the GSK site.

Lakes BioScience has been formed by a team of UK industry experts, including several former GSK employees.

It aims to build, commission and qualify a £350m biomanufacturing plant to produce monoclonal antibodies – used to target a disease-causing organism – on a site just yards from GSK’s factory in Ulverston.

Pat McIver, a director of Lakes BioScience, 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 says it 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.”

He added: “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, which Lakes BioScience has submitted to South Lakeland District Council, are designed to:

  • Build an agile, customer-focused, biopharmaceutical monoclonal antibody manufacturing and process development factory;
  • Put the UK at the forefront of biopharma scientific research, development and manufacture, by building and operating a state-of-the art, fully digitised operation building on all the learning from the best practices around the world and putting it into one dynamic UK operation.

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.”

It added: “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.”