One of Teesside's biggest success stories - and CPI bosses are looking to the future with excitement; The Centre for Process Innovation is looking to generate value from the millions of pounds of Government funding it has secured to kick-start science ventures on Teesside. Jez Davison reports...
THE Centre for Process Innovation is rapidly becoming one of Teesside's biggest success stories.
Nestled in the thriving tech hubs of Wilton and Sedgefield's NetPark, the organisation has been remarkably adept at securing funding that's set to create wealth and jobs for the local economy.
In March a six-strong UK biotech consortium led by the CPI secured a PS6.2m Government cash boost to help UK firms develop new biologic treatments - in layman's terms, medicines that come from plants or other biological sources. That came hot on the heels of a PS1m windfall, announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his March budget, that will enable the CPI to help chemical firms improve their products and processes.
The CPI has also been chosen to manage an PS18m National Centre for Healthcare Photonics, which will allow companies to experiment with light to treat medical conditions as diverse as skin disease and cancer. And late last year the Government rubber-stamped a ground-breaking PS28m National Formulation Centre that will enable firms to explore the commercial potential of complex formulated products used in everyday household goods.
That's just a fraction of the remit of the CPI, which is also gearing up to lead a PS38m National Biologics Manufacturing Centre that will help firms develop new and cost-effective treatments for patients, and an innovation hub that will explore the potential of the so-called "wonder material" graphene.
On the back of these good news stories, CPI bosses want to start sharing the wealth.
Jonathan Robinson, CPI head of business development in biologics, said: "We've been in the news a lot recently for securing all of this funding - and that's great - but people don't really understand what we're going to do with it, how we're going to generate value from it.
"It's about helping companies refine their processes and bring ideas to market quicker than they would have done if they tried it themselves. For a smaller company that's trying to develop a complex product it's very difficult due to the costs involved. You could be looking at up to PS8m over one to three years - or even more depending on the technology.
"At CPI we create favourable conditions that allow companies to trial their ideas to see if they will work. Many of them don't but there may be one gem that will make somebody a lot of money."
A huge advantage of having CPI experts on the doorstep is that they can help firms "de-risk" a project - in other words, prevent them from spending a small fortune on developing a product that never sees the light of day. The cost of developing a drug or medicine can run to several millions of pounds, an outlay beyond the reach of many SMEs. The Government funding secured by CPI has triggered the creation of sophisticated test-bed facilities that allow companies to trial ideas and concepts at relatively low cost.
Once other facilities are in place, such as the biologics and healthcare photonics centres, many more firms will be able to do likewise. And these facilities will benefit scientists all over the world, and not just those on Teesside.
CPI bosses are looking to the future with genuine excitement. If just a fraction of the ideas currently on the table bear fruit, it will justify ministers' decision to channel almost PS200m of public funding to the organisation since it was established in 2004. On the back of that, CPI says it has already generated PS2.4bn of GVA (gross value added) - a return on investment ratio of 12 to one.
That ratio could rise exponentially in the coming years, as new facilities come on stream, partnerships are formed, ideas commercialised and revenues generated.
Dr Graham Hillier, director of strategy and futures at CPI, said: "We're building a team of really clever people who have the knowledge and expertise to bring ideas to market. It's all about converting good ideas into products and processes.
"You can be an inventor but not necessarily a good innovator. Steve Jobs (the late co-founder of Apple) was not an inventor but he was a great innovator.
"He took existing ideas and products and found new applications for them through the development of new technologies."
The CPI's task now is to find the next batch of great tech innovators, those who can find a new way of making money from a product that might be sitting right under their noses.
The ultimate goal is to unearth the next Steve Jobs here on Teesside and while that's a lofty ambition, the foundation blocks have been built and the wheels set in motion.
CPI'S CORE AREAS OF WORK The CPI works on a diverse range of projects and technologies but its primary focus is on the following key sectors: Industrial |biotechnology and biorefining Formulations and | flexible manufacturing Printable electronics | Biologics | The idea is to help firms create less waste and develop products or processes that are cleaner, more efficient and more economically viable than those currently on the market.
Centre for Process Innovation's facilities THE CPI already has an influential presence in Wilton and Sedgefield but its footprint is set to widen significantly in the next few years as new schemes come on stream. Here's the lowdown on some of the organisation's key facilities: National Centre for Printable Electronics (PETEC): launched at NetPark in 2009, PETEC explores the potential of exciting new products from bendable sheet lighting to wafer-thin portable TV screens.
National Centre for Healthcare Photonics: due to open at NetPark by 2017, the PS18m facility will help firms develop pioneering technology that uses light to diagnose and treat debilitating medical conditions. PolyPhotonix is already a leader in this field and has developed a special sleep mask for people who suffer from diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the cells at the back of the eye. The condition affects an estimated 102 million people worldwide and could cause blindness if not treated quickly.
National Formulation Centre: due to be up and running next year, the PS28m facility will draw in experts from the UK and overseas to explore the commercial potential of complex formulated products used in everyday household goods, such as paints, detergent powders, adhesives, lubricants, cosmetic creams and gels. Based at NetPark, it will act as a UK hub that gives strategic direction to the work of several regional UK "spokes".
Formulation Innovation Centre: the PS14.4m FIC will complement the work of the NFC but focus more on product process and design rather than strategy. It is due to open in 2016 at NetPark.
Graphene Applications Innovation Centre: based at NetPark, the PS14m GAIC will help firms fast-track graphene-based applications to the marketplace. Teesside is already home to Applied Graphene Materials, a Durham University spin-out company that developed a full-scale commercial operation at Wilton and eventually floated on the Alternative Investment Market in 2013.
National Biologics Manufacturing Centre: the PS38m NBMC will be based in Darlington and is due to open this autumn. It will help firms develop and commercialise "biologic" products and processes - those made from natural sources such as human or animal protein. Potential treatments range from flu vaccines to antibodies that could help fight cancer.
"Factory of the Future": a biologics research and development centre that will be based next to the NBMC in Darlington. Due to open by 2018, it will allow firms to trial and develop technologies for a range of medicinal
Graham Hillier, director of strategy and futures at the Centre for Process |Innovation based at Wilton
| The official ground-breaking for Centre for Process Innovation's PS38m National Biologics Centre in Darlington. From left are |Councillor Bill Dixon, leader of Darlington Council, Steve Bagshaw, CEO of Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, Nigel Perry, CEO of CPI, Sandy Anderson, chair of Local Enterprise Partnership Tees Valley Unlimited (TVU), and Chris Dowle, CPI's director of the new centre
| PolyPhotonix founder |Richard Kirk with the sleep mask for people who suffer from diabetic retinopathy
Jon Mabbit, CEO of Applied Graphene Materials plc
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|Publication:||Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)|
|Date:||Jul 6, 2015|
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