A USA manufacturing tech Pharma company has bought the UK’s Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC), based at Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire and which is currently being built.
Catalent plans to invest up to $160 million (£120 million) to complete the building of the facility and equip it with state-of-the-art capabilities for the development and manufacture of biologic therapies and vaccines, including mRNA, proteins, and other advanced modalities. It is expected that the new facility will employ more than 400 people and support public and private organisations seeking to develop and manufacture biotherapeutics.
But the sale has caused outrage in some quarters. In the last few weeks campaigners against the sale have protested in Oxford.
And the Leader of Oxford Council, Susan Brown, said: “The news that the government have sold off the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre is extremely sad and shortsighted.
“This could have remained a national treasure to be cherished rather than being sold to the highest bidder.
“This sale of national iconic organisations such as the vaccine Centre and Channel 4, is nothing but asset stripping.”
VMIC was set up as a not for profit organisation in 2018 to provide the country’s first bespoke strategic vaccine development and manufacturing capability.
The rapidly-accelerated programme for the 7,000 m2 facility, was an unprecedented collaborative effort between The Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, Harwell Campus, Vale of the White Horse District Council, UK Research and Innovation, and St Albans-based Glencar, the main contractor, has accelerated the construction of this complex build in order to bring the facility on line early so that it can provide an emergency response capability for the UK.
It was initially funded through a £67 million government grant, and secured a further £131 million from the government in May 2020 and a further £47.6 million in March last year to support the expansion and acceleration of the programme.
In September last year the Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the site. As the time he 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.”
Mike Riley, President of Catalent Biotherapeutics, said: “This acquisition allows Catalent to collaborate with the rich academic and biomedical science community centered around Oxford, with its world-class talent, and will result in a facility that provides opportunities to transform innovation into real treatments for patients across the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.
“Our priority is to complete construction as soon as possible to be able to commence customer programs in 2022. We will then integrate its capabilities within our existing network of biologics facilities across Europe to offer a flexible range of manufacturing, technology, and development solutions for the pipeline of thousands of development programs currently underway.”
Professor Robin Shattock, Head of Mucosal Infection and Immunity at Imperial College London, and Chair of the Board of Directors of VMIC Ltd, said: “This deal ensures the VMIC site, when completed, will stay true to the original purpose of strengthening the U.K.’s vaccine manufacturing capability by bringing innovation to the sector and getting more vaccines to the clinic. “Catalent has the resources to ensure this facility can become operational and start contributing to the UK’s and Europe’s vaccines landscape at pace. I would like to recognise employees at VMIC for their passion and commitment during the pandemic and the success that their work brought to the U.K. In Catalent, we’ve found a new owner who shares the vision for what we wanted to achieve and has safeguarded the interests of the workforce.”
The new facility is located to the south of Oxford at the world-renowned Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, a leading site in the U.K. for science and technology research breakthroughs and home to more than 40 life science companies.
Catalent has a long-standing presence in the UK, where its workforce already exceeds 1,300 people at its four facilities focused on development and manufacturing of oral dose forms, located in Nottingham, Swindon, Haverhill, and Dartford, in addition to a clinical trial supply site in Bathgate, Scotland. The Catalent Biotherapeutics network also includes sites in Italy, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the United States.