Vaccine heroes at AstraZeneca have launched a new £1 billion research centre in Britain they say could help end animal testing.
Prince Charles officially opened the pharmaceutical giant’s new hub in Cambridge and said its research in to new medicines will “save the lives of untold millions of people”.
The pharmaceutical giant will pioneer ways of growing working human organ tissues in labs there including hearts, kidneys and functioning lung cells.
Currently drugs are tested on hundreds of thousands of animals in Britain – mainly rodents – and usually require the animal to be killed.
The firm mass produced the Oxford University vaccine that was the main driver behind Britain’s quick rollout of Covid-19 jabs without profit and has vaccinated more poorer countries than any other.
The Prince of Wales, who went to university in Cambridge, said: “Throughout the pandemic I have greatly admired the dedicate commitment of Pascal [Soriot, chief executive] and the entire AstraZeneca team.
“You have developed and delivered a vaccine for the world in a remarkably short timescale which will continue to have a positive impact on communities and society for years to come.
“I must say it has been absolutely fascinating to see at least some of the work that takes place inside this centre and to think that, supported by interactions across the city and beyond, it will ultimately enhance and save the lives of untold millions of people around the world in the years and decades to come.”
AstraZeneca is expanding into research including growing tiny human organs in the lab so that drugs can be tested on them.
Its new Discovery Centre in Cambridge will house 2,400 scientists and be one of the major research hubs in Europe.
It will pioneer a new ‘heart in a jar’ technology which will see a beating organ grown in a lab and potential new drugs tested on it.
The 1mm human-engineered beating heart means drugs for a range of conditions, such as antidepressants, can be tested to see if they have side effects that impact on the way it functions.
Similar human ‘organoids’ will grow cells to mimic functions of human lungs, kidneys and bone marrow.
Its organ-on-a-chip technology will grow 3D structures of bone marrow cells to speed to the development of medicines for all cancers.
Currently new experimental drugs are usually tested on animals at the early stages of trials to check they are safe before being tested on humans.
Stefan Platz, senior vice president for safety at AstraZeneca, told the Mirror: “Everyone would like to get to a position where at some stage we have enough confidence that no animal models will be needed.
“This is a position that we should make some effort to get to for society.
“In order to get there predictive in-vitro models will play a really fundamental role.”
The Anglo-Swedish firm’s other research and development hubs are in Gothemburg and the US.
Its Cambridge centre’s disc-like structure has 174 boreholes to provide natural geothermal energy, four cooling towers and a ground source heat pump that will save enough energy to power 2,500 homes.
Prince Charles said: “If I may say so, I am also greatly heartened by the focus on sustainability which is clearly in this company’s DNA.
“From the lab to the patient, you are embedding innovation in everything you do, in order to improve human, as well as planetary health.
“Your mission to deliver net zero healthcare via the latest technologies, renewable alternatives and a circular approach, is one from which many within and outside of your sector can learn.”