A company based at the Wilton Centre has received global recognition for developing ground-breaking technology to deliver life-saving drugs.
During the past 18 months Micropore Technologies has been working with some of the leading pharmaceutical companies who produced COVID-19 vaccines.
It is now in talks about using the same technology to tackle some of the world’s other deadliest diseases.
“We provide the flexibility to be able to treat diseases that up to now have been untreatable,” said Micropore’s CEO Dai Hayward MBE.
“We are not only talking about infectious diseases like AIDS, flu and malaria we are also talking about genetic diseases like Parkinson’s and Hodgkin’s. We’ve got two dozen companies in discussion about this technology, so it really is a case of from Wilton to the world.”
In October Micropore received the 2021 iChemE global award for its Versatile Lipid Nanoparticle Manufacturing. It was also highly commended in a second category by the Institution of Chemical Engineers’ judges. The company had previously won an iChemE global award in 2019.
“Experts in the field are on the judging panel, so we were properly peer reviewed – and that means a lot,” said Mr Hayward. “We were up against global competition but, even though we are a still just a small business, we did it again.”
Earlier this month the company was nominated in another worldwide event – the CPhI Pharma Awards which were held in Milan – and it was also a finalist in the Spectator Magazine’s Economic Innovator of the Year, hosted by broadcaster Andrew Neil.
“It’s very satisfying to receive this recognition,” said Mr Hayward, “and it’s a real testament to the fantastic team we’ve built at the Wilton Centre.”
Micropore’s techonolgy has the potential to play a key role in fighting future pandemics caused by viruses like COVID-19. The vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech were based on mRNA (messenger Ribonucleic Acid). Injecting synthetic mRNA teaches a body’s cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response to fight an infection.
“Using LNPs – lipid nanoparticles – as a carrier mechanism is a very different approach for making vaccines,” said Mr Hayward. “In effect you need to smuggle the RNA into the body, past its defences and into the cell, otherwise it will see it as an alien species.”
Micropore’s award-winning technology creates these lipid nanoparticles which are, in effect, little fatty blobs with the RNA hidden inside.
Although the technique of using LNPs was developed decades ago, before Micropore no company had found a way to produce mRNA containing LNPs in sufficient quantities, quality and consistency to be able to manufacture vaccines commercially.
“All of a sudden you’ve got a very flexible and capable drugs delivery mechanism that is capable of producing lots of different drugs very much more quickly than has historically been the case,” said Mr Hayward. The implications for Micropore and drugs companies – as well as millions of people – are potentially huge.
Micropore Technologies was launched in 2003 as a spin-out business from Loughborough University. When it moved to the Wilton Centre in 2016 it employed one person. During the pandemic it doubled its staff to 16. The company has just signed a long-term lease and taken on more office and laboratory space.
“The centre’s been very supportive and flexible,” said Mr Hayward. “The reasons we moved here in the first place remain the same. It’s well-resourced and in a good location in an area with a very firm foundation in science and engineering.”
Micropore has recently appointed a new commercial director and is looking to strengthen its board. Its recruitment is unlikely to stop there. “We are ambitiously growing and therefore we will need additional people to help and sustain that growth,” said its CEO.
The Wilton Centre has just undergone a £2m refurbishment. It and nine other science parks in the UK and Ireland are owned by We are Pioneer Group (WAPG). The centre’s accommodation manager Claire Morton said WAPG’s objective across all of its sites was to provide an environment where businesses like Micropore can flourish.
“We are all so proud of its achievements. Micropore’s just one of a number of businesses based here who are making such a difference to people’s lives. We’ve got companies leading the world in plastic recycling as well as life sciences,” she said.
“The level of investment taking place in Teesside and now the launch of the freeport has placed the Wilton Centre at the very heart of one of the most economic active areas in the UK.”