How much do you know about the "game-changing" work going on in Stevenage's science hub?

We went along to Rentschler Biopharma's ATMP site to find out more about their ambitious goal - helping to cure diseases.

Rentschler Biopharma, a German company with worldwide reach, opted for a unit on Stevenage's industrial estate when looking to set up their UK operation.

From their base here, they help manufacture drugs developed by other companies. Part of Stevenage's burgeoning biopharmaceutical sector, they manufacture gene therapies that, where successful, could be used to address the unique needs of patients with often rare or previously untreated diseases.

Known as a Contract Development Manufacturing Organisation, their work is a "game-changer", according to Rob Panting, the first general manager of Rentschler Biopharma.

He says this is because "they're curative rather than therapeutic".

"You can alter what's happening so that fewer patient interventions are needed - people can go about living a much more normal life without having to constantly go back in for repeat treatments."

The Comet: Rob Panting is the first general manager of Rentschler ATMP.Rob Panting is the first general manager of Rentschler ATMP. (Image: Rentschler ATMP)

Biotech companies develop novel gene therapies, where viruses are used as delivery vehicles to cure rare diseases.

The role of Rentschler ATMP's Stevenage site - the ATMP stands for Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products - in all this is to help those biotech and pharmaceutical companies mass produce their cures.

Rob says: "It's a complicated business and, of course, it's very highly regulated because your product is ultimately injected into a human being. You need to make sure that it's clean and that it's efficacious.

"We advise companies on how to get their products into the clinic and onto the market.

"We develop the manufacturing process, we do the manufacturing, the testing, the release, and the quality control side of things. So we can go all the way from our clients having just their idea, or we can just do the manufacturing and the release part of the process."


The products they're working on could help people with diseases such as haemophilia, with the potential to be used for more common diseases too in future, including macular degeneration.

In Stevenage, they focus on viral vector development for gene therapy manufacturing. These are viruses chosen because they cannot replicate independently and do not trigger a strong immune response.

Rob explains the process: "Our clients will work out, 'OK, there's a disease, with a gene that isn't working properly, or simply isn't active in a patient, or needs to be silenced'.

"What you can do is package a gene into this virus, that goes into the body, targeted at a specific tissue.

"That packaged gene helps form what is called an episome, and expresses whatever it is that you wish to express."

Once expressed, crucially, it should "last for a much longer period of time" than ordinary treatment, meaning patients can live their lives without having to apply treatment continually.

The Comet: Rentschler ATMP work from this building in Stevenage's industrial estate.Rentschler ATMP work from this building in Stevenage's industrial estate. (Image: Rentschler ATMP)

For Rob - who grew up in nearby St Albans - this is a "really exciting area of science to be in", with "advanced therapies coming out onto the market and being developed that in 20 years' time will make it a very different place for patients".

"Gene therapies are going to be something which is offered much more widely, and they're going to make a real, real difference to people's lives - the science of it is really quite exciting."

And it's all happening here in Stevenage, selected by Rentschler Biopharma.

Rob says: "It's in the heart of the Golden Triangle .... there are a lot of companies locally which are in the advanced therapies space, so it makes sense to set up here."

He adds that Stevenage's growth as a hub for this is "going to drive a lot for the area".

"It's going to attract new jobs, it's going to attract new companies ... and we're part of that story, we're bringing some of the elements that that ecosystem needs to grow and thrive.

"We're supporting other businesses too as they grow, and as a result investment, job growth and talent retention in Stevenage increases."

Rentschler is hoping to be at the heart of that, "providing stable, high-tech jobs" and collaborating with other companies based in Stevenage from their site at the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult facility to promote the town's development as a  hub.