Oxfordshire gets further £131 million funding to speed up vaccine manufacturing

Vaccines Manufacturing & Innovation Centre

The Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC), a not-for-profit organisation which is developing the UK’s first vaccine development and advanced manufacturing capability at Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire, has been awarded a further £131 million by the Government.

This will speed up the development of the VMIS, which is already under way, and enable the facility to build a temporary manufacturing centre if a vaccine is found.

A rapidly-accelerated programme will aim to see the 7,000 m2 facility opening its doors in 2021, ahead of the original scheduled date in 2022.

The UK’s first dedicated Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC), which this magazine first reported  in December 2018 was initially funded through a £67 million government grant, VMIC will provide facilities and expertise to accelerate vaccine research in the UK and establish the UK’s first vaccines advanced manufacturing capabilities.

This latest funding will boost investment in the UK’s vaccines infrastructure by providing £93 million to expand the facility’s capabilities and fast track the build, and £38 million to create a “virtual VMIC”.

A “virtual” VMIC will allow the centre to buy manufacturing equipment, recruit highly-specialist people, and secure physical space to create a temporary manufacturing centre ready to make vaccines at pace and scale if a viable COVID-19 vaccine is found.

The establishment of this “Virtual VMIC” will be done in collaboration with industry partners and is supported by the national vaccines industry taskforce, coordinated by the BioIndustry Association. The national vaccines industry Taskforce was established by the government on April 20. Members will include government Life Sciences Champion Sir John Bell, as well as AstraZeneca, and the Wellcome Trust.

Experts at VMIC have been working around the clock as part of the national taskforce where they advise on how manufacturing COVID-19 vaccine candidates can be scaled-up. They also play a key role in the consortium led by The Jenner Institute which has opened trials for its adenovirus vaccine candidate at the University of Oxford.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “As the biggest contributor to the international coalition to find a vaccine, the UK is leading the global response. Once a breakthrough is made, we need to be ready to manufacture a vaccine by the millions.”

Dr Matthew Duchars, Chief Executive, The Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre said: “The announcement by Alok Sharma underscores the Government’s commitment to increase the vaccines infrastructure for the UK and is an endorsement of VMIC’s role in the current and future domestic supply of vaccines.

“This means we can charge forward in three vital areas. First, we will fast track our facility’s build timeline to open a year ahead of schedule. Second, we will expand our R&D capability and increase our output capacity, so we can develop and scale-up multiple vaccines simultaneously and be able to manufacture them in response to a pandemic. All this will result in faster development of new vaccines.

“Third we will work with partners to create a ‘virtual VMIC’ to manufacture vaccine for COVID-19 this year, while our permanent facility is still under construction. Our priority will be to create a temporary centre to manufacture millions of doses of vaccine, as soon as a vaccine has been found.”

Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer of CEPI (The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), a global partnership launched in 2017 between public, private and philanthropic organisations, to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics, said: “The UK has shown great leadership in the global response to COVID-19, providing crucial support for the development of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments against the virus.

CEPI applauds the UK’s latest pledge to scale-up funding for the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, which comes at a crucial point in the world’s response to the virus.

“This funding will enable the centre to come online much sooner than expected and will hopefully enable it to play an important role in manufacturing safe, effective, and globally accessible vaccines against COVID-19, once they have undergone necessary testing and regulatory approval.”

Speaking from one of VMIC’s founding organisations Professor Robin Shattock of Imperial College London said: “The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for the UK to have its own highly responsive vaccine manufacturing capacity, this new funding will ensure VMIC will be able to meet these challenges and open its doors in record time.”

The permanent VMIC facility will be located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire. The  facility will house specialist equipment drawing on both innovative and traditional technologies. It is envisaged that much of the work at the new facility will be collaborative ventures with organisations ranging from small and medium sized businesses, through to large multinationals and NGOs such as Wellcome and CEPI, thereby underpinning the activity and strength of the UK in the vaccine area.