There’s a strong case for biotechnology and pharmaceuticals companies to invest in UK manufacturing operations. Here’s the case for the best location.

Published:     Reading time: 4 minutes

The biotechnology and pharmaceuticals sector is increasing its capacity in the UK to cope with the challenges presented by Covid-19. At the same time, Great Britain’s new trading relationship with the EU is causing many companies to reevaluate their supply chains. For businesses considering reshoring operations to the UK, Wilton International, at the heart of the North East’s biotech and pharma cluster, presents a strong site proposition.

A challenging year for biotech and pharma companies

Since early 2020, supply chains globally have been under great strain due to the effects of the pandemic on both trade and production.  Biotech and pharma companies have faced the challenge of producing new vaccines, tests and treatments at a rate that would previously have been unthinkable, at a time when countries across the world have been under lockdown, with increasingly tight borders.

In the UK, the challenges presented by Covid-19, coinciding with the county’s new trading relationship with the EU, have led to a rapid expansion of UK vaccine manufacturing and a recognition of the need to reshore some production.1

And there’s no doubt that the UK presents specific advantages for investing businesses in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector. Through this turbulent period, the country has proved to be a welcoming location for innovation and expansion, providing world-leading research facilities, a positive regulatory environment, and swift routes to market for R&D and manufacturing companies.

Is it time to reshore biotech and pharma manufacturing to the UK?

To ensure the ongoing robustness of the sector, the UK Life Sciences Recovery Roadmap2 proposes that an increase in UK-based manufacturing capacity is now needed, as part of a broader strategy to build supply chain diversity and resilience. At present, about 70% of the global base ingredients for drugs are manufactured in China. These ingredients are then blended and packaged to produce medicines. India is the biggest supplier of prepared medicines to the UK and only 25% of the medicines the UK uses are produced domestically.3 In light of the shortages of reagents and interruptions to supplies of some vital medicines seen in 2020, it has become clear that there is a strong argument for the reshoring of supply chain manufacturing.

Julia Moore, CEO of Reshoring UK (a network with over 30 engineering trade associations’ companies connected at, explains: “It became obvious in March and April 2020 that manufacturers in the UK had not fully understood risks to their supply chains. The global shock of the pandemic has shown that detailed risk assessments are essential to understand and plan how to cope with future shocks.

“It is definitely time for companies to think about working with UK suppliers or at least dual-sourcing critical parts of the supply chain. Brexit has added further complexity for manufacturers, and, because of complex trade rules of origin, companies are re-evaluating whether sourcing in the UK could now be better value and more sustainable than sourcing from elsewhere”.

What makes a good manufacturing location?

Pharma and biotech companies looking to reshore operations, invest in the UK for the first time, or expand their capacity, need an industrial site with ready access to power, heat and industrial gases, freight connectivity to UK and global markets, a skilled sector workforce, and local support to enable fast project delivery. Direct access to world leading R&D may also be a requirement, or an advantage.

Wilton International in Teesside meets these various requirements in a safe, secure COMAH Tier 3 setting. The site offers pre-consented, ready-to-go development plots with full utilities, including pipeline delivery of industrial gases, demineralised water, heat and private wire electricity. Multi-modal freight connectivity includes fast road and rail links to UK markets, pipelines to the North Tees liquid bulk terminals (and the wider Teesside cluster), and direct access to Teesport - a major deep-sea port. And investing businesses can get up and running quickly - Sembcorp Energy UK, operators of Wilton International, have a track record of delivering large-scale industrial projects efficiently and within tight timescales.

The industrial cluster at Wilton International is part of is a well-developed regional knowledge economy that encompasses chemicals and other process manufacturing as well as biotech and pharma. Benefits for investing businesses include an available, skilled workforce, industry-focused education and training, and supportive local authorities that understand and welcome industrial investment.

World-class businesses, research and higher education

The North East of England is home to 1,000 life science and healthcare companies, including Teesside-based KD Pharma, Hart Biologicals and Cambridge Research Biochemicals. The new Novax Covid-19 vaccine will be manufactured by Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies at their Billingham site, just a few miles from Wilton International. In total, the North East cluster employs around 38,000 people and generates turnover of £10.5 billion, contributing no less than 33% of the UK’s pharmaceuticals sector GDP.4

Regional research capabilities are equally impressive. The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), part of the UK government’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult, is located in the Wilton Centre, adjacent to Wilton International. The organisation’s National Formulation Centre and National Biologics Manufacturing Centre are based nearby, offering R&D support and project collaborations to industry. At Teesside University, the £22 million National Horizons Centre is one of the UK’s best-equipped bioscience training facilities, offering industry-leading equipment and resources for bioprocessing, biological imaging, genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, biosynthesis and bioinformatics.

2021 may well be the right time for biotechnology and pharmaceuticals companies to invest in UK manufacturing operations. At Wilton International, Sembcorp Energy UK and their regional partners are ready to welcome them into Teesside’s world-class industry cluster.