Prince Charles had officially opened a new research hub in Cambridge for pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. The company, which pioneered the fast rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine last year, will investigate ways of growing human organ tissues, to reduce the need for animal testing, which results in the death of thousands of small mammals each year.

The Mirror reports that the life sciences firm will focus on growing working human hearts, kidneys, and functioning lung cells in labs. The new £1bn campus in Cambridge is titled the Discovery Centre, and will be one of the largest research hubs in Europe, with over 2,400 workers.

The Prince of Wales 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.”

He added: “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.”

Reuters reports that Prince Charles viewed an exhibition on the pandemic, and was given a demonstration of how augmented reality headsets are used to help with lab work. The campus has been in development since 2013, but in the meantime costs have spiralled, and the plans have far exceeded the timeframe of 2016 and £330m estimate.

The Anglo-Swedish company has ambitious plans for the future, and is already working to bring a preventative antibody Covid-19 drug on the market. To date, it has supplied two billion Covid vaccines doses around the world at cost price, meaning that it has helped to vaccinate more poorer countries than any other supplier.

There are plans for further research and development into cancer, using next generation therapeutics, such as gene-editing and cell therapies. Miniature human organs can be grown for drug testing, including beating hearts and bone marrow cells, which will make the development of new treatments faster, and eliminate the need for animal testing.

Dr Susan Galbraith, Executive Vice President, Oncology Research & Development, said: “We will have advances that could come to the clinic in the next three, four years, that can lead to really effective new drugs in various aspects of treating cancer. I’m very optimistic about the fact that we can make a big difference to this disease in the coming decade.”

The new campus is highly eco-friendly, with 174 boreholes to provide natural geothermal energy, a ground source heat pump, and four cooling towers, according to the Mirror’s report. Prince Charles praised the firm’s efforts to meet carbon zero targets, and commented that sustainable action was needed for a greener, healthier future.

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