It’s been one year since Porton Biopharma Ltd (PBL) was commercialised out of Public Health England during the run-up to the general election. On the blog today, Dr Phil Luton, Commercial and Marketing Manager at PBL, explains more about the company’s history and its plans for the future.
It’s not often that a new company emerges fully formed with expertise in developing and licensing products both in Europe and the US, but that is exactly what happened just over a year ago with Porton Biopharma Ltd (PBL).
If you didn’t hear about it at the time, then don’t worry; your news feeds and industry alerts haven’t let you down. PBL was commercialised out of Public Health England (PHE) during the run-up to the general election; consequently, a soft launch was implemented, and the new company slipped almost silently into existence.
Of course, the “Porton brand” has been around for a century now, with the origins of the site dating back to the First World War; however, it was really in the 1960s that its scientists first started to look at harnessing microbes for healthcare. They were pioneers in developing continuous fermentation technology, the backbone of the modern biotechnology industry, and over the decades have worked with many different companies to help develop products as the sector grew.
That knowledge and expertise was also applied in-house, and Porton has taken its own products from the research lab, scaled them up, developed viable manufacturing processes (often ones requiring biocontainment, which is a particular expertise on site), and gained regulatory experience in multiple markets.
Over the decades and often in response to global challenges from outbreaks of infectious diseases, wars, and other security threats, successive governments have shaped and changed the business model for the various organisations that have run the public health side of Porton. However, a significant strategic shift happened a few years ago with the appointment of Dr Roger Hinton as Director of Development and Production at what was then the Health Protection Agency (HPA). A key priority for Roger was to gain FDA licensure for Porton’s principle product, Erwinase®, an asparginase enzyme used in the treatment of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. That was achieved in 2011 and relicensed to a new partner (Jazz Pharmaceuticals) – it is now a life-saving biopharmaceutical available in nearly eighty countries around the world.
The next important strategic move was to consider how the manufacture of biopharmaceutical products fitted within the HPA, especially since a review of the future of research facilities at Porton was in process. By working with the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health and others, the formation of PBL was planned to enable it to remain on the Porton site where it could continue to supply the UK government with anthrax vaccine (a key strategic biodefence product) and work with its many commercial partners.
So PBL emerged on 1st April 2015, as a limited liability company with over 200 staff; still owned by the government but with a remit to continue to commercialise and grow its activities. Separately (later in 2015) there followed the announcement by the Chancellor of investment in new public health laboratories in Harlow, Essex, for PHE.
During the last year PBL has already grown by both increasing its head count and investing in its facilities, as demonstrated earlier this year with the opening of its new filling and freeze drying facility by Minister for Life Sciences, George Freeman MP. Whilst focusing on its key products, PBL is also looking to continue to work with the UK medicines manufacturing industry to offer help and assistance in developing, characterising and bringing to market new biological products, much as its predecessors have done over the decades.