UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the construction site of the rapidly developing UK’s Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus last week. VMIC, a not-for-profit organisation will provide the UK’s first strategic vaccine development and advanced manufacturing capability that will accelerate vaccines development in the UK and also provide national emergency response for future pandemics.
The Prime Minister met with scientists and engineers advising on scaling up manufacturing of viable COVID-19 vaccines and establishing a rapid deployment centre, known as ‘Virtual VMIC’ to increase supply of the Oxford/AZ vaccine, which is currently in clinical trials.
He also met with design and construction teams fast tracking the development of the 7,400 sq m facility and who are working in an unprecedented effort to bring the high-tech centre online a year ahead of schedule.
A rapidly-accelerated programme will aim to see the facility, first announced in December 2018, opening its doors in 2021, ahead of the original scheduled date in 2022.
The Prime Minister said: “Brilliant scientists in Oxfordshire and around the UK are driving global efforts to develop a safe vaccine that works to defeat coronavirus. If one proves successful, we need to be ready to distribute it to the British people as soon as possible.
“That is why construction of the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre at Harwell, backed by £158 million from the Government, is fully underway in Oxfordshire. When open, VMIC will be able to manufacture enough vaccine doses for the whole UK population in as little as six months, which would transform how we beat this virus and prepare for future pandemics.”
Dr Matthew Duchars, CEO of The Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre said: “The visit from the Prime Minister is testament to the incredible work being carried out by an exceptional team at VMIC and amongst our partners. Their work forms a vitally important part of the national response to COVID-19 as well as fast tracking the facility to bring it online in 2021. Once complete, the centre will be equipped to provide future pandemic response for the whole of the UK.
“The Government has demonstrated it is wholeheartedly committed to increasing the country’s vaccines infrastructure in order to strengthen the UK’s ability to not only provide a pandemic response capability, but also to discover and manufacture vaccines for a whole range of conditions. We look forward to being able to deliver on this as part of our day to day work, for the benefit of the UK and overseas.”
Angus Horner, Harwell Science and Innovation Campus Director, said: “It is hugely appreciated that the Prime Minister visited VMIC at Harwell today, to see and hear for himself more about the progress with the facility and also VMIC and Harwell’s multiple scientific COVID-19 initiatives.
“Additional to sovereign resilience against viral and other biological threats, the Harwell Campus and VMIC teams are working here every day to reinforce UK Science’s world leading position and to generate major economic and societal benefits for our Nation.”
Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive at UK Research and Innovation, said: “The Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre is an essential new weapon in the UK’s fight against diseases, ensuring sufficient vaccines get to the public in the fastest possible time. But it’s also part of a unique health research and development capability the UK is developing through a publicly-funded network of centres of excellence, catalysts and infrastructure that will allow us to meet today’s health challenges – and those of the future.”
Cliff Dare, Chief Operating Officer and Head of Real Estate of Harwell Campus and Development Manager for the VMIC build, said: “Both Harwell Campus and the UK as a whole have an enviable record of stepping up in times of adversity, and our joint and combined response to COVID-19 is yet another example of this.
“Many projects, in both the private and public sectors, talk about “Risk” without truly understanding what that mean, and this project has really pushed the “risk envelope” in order to deliver it over 12 months early during the pandemic situation. This means collaboration and concurrency at every level with all stakeholders on a mutually agreed joint outcome in our Nation’s interest”.
VMIC was established by the University of Oxford, Imperial College and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with support from industrial partners, MSD, Johnson and Johnson and Cytiva, formerly known as GE Healthcare.
The Centre’s initial funding came from a £65 million grant from UK Research and Innovation, as part of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, with a further £93 million in 2020 to expand the facility’s capabilities and fast track the build.
VMIC will occupy a prominent location on the 700-acre Harwell Campus, home to 6,000 people across around 225 organisations [with 30 universities represented onsite]. As a pillar organisation within the Harwell HealthTec Cluster (58 organisations, collectively employing 1,250 people), VMIC will be co-located with the UK’s open access National Laboratories, including the Diamond Light Source and The Rosalind Franklin Institute as well as innovative start-ups/ SMEs through to multinationals working in the global and UK Life Sciences sector.