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Minister for Life Sciences, George Freeman MP, visits PolyPhotonix

Science MP says region is “once again an engine of industry and innovation” ahead of visit to North East on Thursday

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP is visiting the North East on Thursday to promote and support the region’s growing life sciences cluster as an important part of the UK’s Northern Powerhouse.

Here he outlines his reason for the visit.

At the turn of the 20th Century, the North East was the industrial engine of the British Empire.

And after a period of painful restructuring and reconstruction in the 1980s, now, at the turn of the 21st Century, the North East is once again an engine of industry and innovation.

The fastest growing region in the North and home to one of the UK’s largest car manufacturing plants, the North East’s innovators and engineers are underpinning the recovery of our automotive sector. UK car production hit record levels in 2014, with 80% being exported to over 100 different markets.

But the North East isn’t just driving the UK’s automotive sector. This region, with its proud history of innovation, is helping to drive a new industrial revolution – the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” in bioscience, biomedicine and medical technology.

Driven by world class science; the NHS; small, high-growth companies and active investors; the North East life sciences cluster is an important part of the UK’s Northern Powerhouse.

Home to more than 130 medtech, pharma and bioscience companies, employing more than 5,000 people and now generating an annual turnover of over £670 million, the North East is leading the way in some of the fastest-growing sectors of life sciences. I’m delighted to be visiting the region to promote and support this.

At the NHS Genomics Medicine Centre at Newcastle’s Centre for Life, I will meet local families taking part in a pilot project as part of the NHS’s groundbreaking 100,000 Genomes Project. With an aim to sequence 100,000 whole genomes from NHS patients by 2017, Newcastle clinicians and patients are helping to deliver pioneering research that will improve treatment and diagnosis for thousands suffering from cancer and rare diseases in the future.

Newcastle is also a world leader in ageing science and my visit will also take in the National Institute for Health Research Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre. With over £16 million, this partnership between Newcastle NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Newcastle is bringing academics and clinicians together to work on ground breaking research into dementia. I will also meet liver patients who are using a new app developed at the Centre that is enabling them to cut down on the stress of frequent hospital appointments by monitoring the progress of their disease at home and interacting with their specialist via video link.

The North East isn’t just home to big centres of medical research excellence – I’m also visiting some shining examples of innovative fast growing life science companies that have grown bright ideas to bold inventions.

I’m visiting Polyphotonix in Sedgefield, one of the UK’s most exciting life science companies, who have developed a unique eye mask to improve the sight of diabetics across the globe. In just seven years, and backed by Government support, PolyPhotonix has grown a bright idea into a commercial sleep mask that is estimated could save the NHS around £1 billion per year for treatment of diabetic retinopathy and other eye conditions.

And in Newcastle’s Quayside, I’ll be opening new lab space at diagnostics company QuantuMDx. With support from Innovate UK, the company has grown from a makeshift garage lab to the first commercial laboratory to be opened in Newcastle’s city centre for many years. The company’s pioneering handheld DNA technology will help clinicians around the world to address global challenges by providing fast diagnosis of diseases such as malaria for just a few dollars.

From ground-breaking medical research involving local patients and families through to small life sciences companies that are growing and boosting the local economy, the truth is that the North East is fast becoming a leading cluster of 21st century life science and health technology. The appliance of bioscience and biotechnology are known as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” because of the extraordinary impact they are starting to have on global society and the economy, especially in the fields of medicine, agriculture and energy. The North East has a big part to play.

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