Benchmark vaccine plant sold to firm driving UK effort

Shares of Sheffield-based Benchmark Holdings, the genetics and nutrition firm, rose 6% on Thursday after it agreed to sell its vaccine manufacturing facility at Braintree to Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult (CGT Catapult) for £16 million.

CGT Catapult is supported by the UK Government-backed Innovate UK.

“The government’s strategy to build infrastructure in the UK to scale the manufacture of vaccines and therapeutics in support of the response to Covid-19 created a perfect solution to ensure that our vaccine manufacturing facility is put to best use and to secure employment for its workforce,” said Benchmark.

“Benchmark’s Braintree facility and team have a wide range of GMP (good manufacturing practice) accredited capabilities including antigen production, formulation, process development and scale manufacturing and can be rapidly repurposed to produce human vaccines.

“The state of the art facility, which was completed in 2017, employs 75 highly qualified staff who we are delighted to announce will transfer to CGT Catapult on completion of the sale.

“The transaction is a significant milestone in Benchmark’s strategy to reduce its cost base and focus on its core areas to achieve profitability.

“The proceeds from the sale do not represent a profit to Benchmark, but are based on the facility’s asset value and have been agreed to support the Government’s vaccine strategy.

“The proceeds will further strengthen the group’s financial position and liquidity, with total potential consideration from recent disposals, including this sale, of c.£42m.”

Benchmark CEO Trond Williksen said: “I am very pleased to announce this transaction which is another significant step forward in our strategy of becoming a streamlined, profitable business focused on our key areas of competency.

“Benchmark is also delighted that the timing and conclusion of our vaccine strategy review coincides with the need to scale capabilities to manufacture human vaccines in response to Covid-19 and that the talented team at Benchmark will become part of this critical effort.”

Benchmark chairman Peter George said: “I am extremely pleased that Benchmark has been able to be part of the UK solution for vaccine manufacturing.

“We were in the process of evaluating this sector when Covid-19 broke, and following communications with Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government Vaccine Taskforce, and with special thanks to the hard work of Kate Bingham and her team, this is the outcome.

“I am delighted that we have a long-term solution for the workforce, which has always been our desired outcome.

“I would like to highlight the Government’s foresight in identifying the possibilities here and moving quickly on this decision.

“I am proud to say that Benchmark is exiting the Covid-19 lockdown period in a stronger financial position than we entered, due to our focus on completing our well developed restructuring programme.”

Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult CEO Matthew Durdy said: “This commitment from the Government through the BEIS Vaccines Taskforce will enable continued growth and productivity in the cell and gene therapy sector, as well as providing vital resource for vaccine manufacturing and economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are delighted to welcome the team from Benchmark to the Catapult family and be able to deploy the specialist capabilities of the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult in such an important initiative. 

“Accelerating the availability of Covid-19 vaccines, keeping skills and employment, and facilitating growth of the advanced medicines industry will make a valuable contribution to the recovery of the economy.”