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County Durham Businesses Working to Fight COVID-19

Businesses from across County Durham have joined the battle against coronavirus by applying their expertise to everything from technologies to improve virus detection to increasing production of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitiser.

While many companies have been forced to shut down to contain the pandemic, six County Durham firms are continuing to work on specialist products and technologies in a bid to limit contagion and protect frontline NHS workers.

Four of the businesses are based at the North East Technology Park (NETPark) in Sedgefield including REPROCELL Europe, Graphene Composites, Stream Bio and Kromek.

REPROCELL Europe, who specialise in leading-edge tools and products for stem cell and 3D cell culture research, have joined a consortium with partners in North America and Europe to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

Dr David Bunton, CEO 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.”

Nano-technology manufacturer Graphene Composites has been working on a graphene ink that can be applied to face masks and other PPE as a viricide (virus killing) to provide added protection against coronavirus. Following an appeal for help from other companies with the project the company has already received a number of offers.

Stream Bio Ltd, which is based at the Centre for Process Innovation’s (CPI) within NETPark, develops and manufactures fluoroscent molecular probes used for labelling antibodies. The probes increasing the sensitivity of antibody testing, enabling earlier detection. It is hoped that Stream Bio’s probes can be used in the fight against COVID-19.

Biotechnology firm Kromek Group, also based at NETPark, is recruiting a Project Engineer to work on the development of a mobile pathogen detection system, to detect biological threats, such as COVID-19.

NETPark is managed by Business Durham, the economic development arm of Durham County Council.

Janet Todd, NETPark manager at Business Durham, said: “It’s great to see that NETPark companies are looking at innovative ways to fight COVID-19 and proactively seeking out collaborative opportunities. NETPark is a thriving community of science, engineering and technology companies providing over 550 highly skilled jobs working across a range of sectors such as life science and electronics. We wish them well as they work to combat COVID-19.”

Joining the four NETPark companies are chemical producer INEOS and science-based technology company 3M, both with manufacturing sites in Newton Aycliffe.

Following a critical shortage of hand sanitisers across the UK and Europe, INEOS have opened a new production facility in Newton Aycliffe to help fight the spread of coronavirus.

Hand-to-mouth contamination is one of the main ways that the coronavirus infects people, so the plant will produce 1m bottles of hand sanitiser per month and supply NHS sites across the country.

3M, a leader in personal protective equipment (PPE) for public health and healthcare professionals and individuals is increasing production at all its plants including Newtown Aycliffe.

The science-based technology company is doubling its global output of respirators and delivering them to front line healthcare providers.

Sarah Slaven, Interim Managing Director of Business Durham, said: “This is a challenging time for a lot of businesses in the county, but we are delighted to see some of them working to help fight the coronavirus outbreak.

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.”

Cllr Carl Marshall, Cabinet member for economic regeneration at Durham County Council, said: “County Durham has an international reputation as a place of technological and scientific innovation; therefore, I am delighted but not surprised that businesses based here are playing a crucial role in the battle against coronavirus.

At NETPark, and across the county, we have developed a supportive environment where collaboration is encouraged. This is very much at the heart of our Powered by People campaign, which celebrates the contribution each individual makes.

This is an example of where collaboration, innovation and utilising the skills of our talented workforce has the power to save lives. These companies should feel incredibly proud of the work they are undertaking, and I would like to wish them the best.”

Advice for businesses and employees in County Durham can be found at www.durham.gov.uk and at www.businessdurham.co.uk/covid19.

For the latest advice and information from the Government, visit www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses.

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