Major funding boost for VMIC will rapidly expand UK capacity to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine

17 May 2020

Artist's impression of the VMIC (front) at Harwell_580x280 [image credit: VMIC]
Artist's impression of the VMIC (front) at Harwell_580x280 [image credit: VMIC]

The Vaccines Manufacturing & Innovation Centre (VMIC), a not-for-profit organisation providing the UK’s first strategic vaccine development & advanced manufacturing capability, has been awarded up to £131 million by the government, boosting investment in the UK’s vaccines infrastructure & increasing capacity to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine.

The race to manufacture millions of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine has been boosted with a multi-million-pound government investment, Business Secretary, Alok Sharma announced at today's Downing Street coronavirus briefing.

The government will invest up to £93 million to accelerate construction of the new Vaccines Manufacturing & Innovation Centre (VMIC) which, when completed, will have capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to serve the entire UK population in as little as 6 months. The funding will ensure the VMIC opens in Summer 2021, a full 12 months ahead of schedule.

The new VMIC, which is already under construction, is a key component of the government’s coronavirus vaccine programme – ensuring that once a vaccine is available, it can be produced quickly and in mass quantities.

Under construction on the Harwell Science & Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, the new Centre will be the UK’s first not-for-profit organisation established to develop and advance the mass production of vaccines, boosting the UK’s long-term capacity against future viruses. It will also accelerate production of vaccines for existing illnesses, such as the flu virus.

While the Centre is being built, the government will also establish a rapid deployment facility, thanks to a further investment of £38 million, to begin manufacturing at scale from Summer 2020. This facility will support efforts to ensure a vaccine is widely available to the public as soon as possible.

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. The new Vaccine Manufacturing & Innovation Centre and temporary facility will build ‘fill and finish’ capacity, bringing the UK vaccine programme together from discovery to distribution."

VMIC will invest in more technology to increase its manufacturing capacity at its permanent facility, in order to produce 70 million vaccine doses in just 4-6 months from opening – a 20-fold increase from current figures. Furthermore, the facility’s building schedule will be accelerated to allow it to come online in Summer 2021 – a full year ahead of schedule.

A ‘virtual VMIC’ will be created, procuring advanced manufacturing equipment, recruiting highly-specialist personnel, and securing physical space to create a temporary manufacturing centre ready to make vaccines at pace and scale, once a viable COVID-19 vaccine has been found.

In response to the funding announcement, Dr Matthew Duchars, VMIC’s Chief Executive said: “Today’s announcement 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 investment will rapidly accelerate construction of the facility, enabling us to bring it online a year sooner. In addition, capacity will be significantly increased, so that enough vaccines could be made for everyone in the UK within a matter of months of opening.

UK Research & Innovation Chief Executive, Sir Mark Walport said: "The Vaccines Manufacturing & Innovation Centre is an essential new weapon in the UK’s arsenal against diseases and other biological threats, ensuring sufficient vaccines get to the public in the fastest possible time. The UKRI-funded teams at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London have developed potential coronavirus vaccines at unprecedented speed. By working with partners, including government, VMIC and the Vaccines Taskforce, to fast-track manufacturing capability, we are ensuring that momentum will continue all the way from lab to patient."

The UK is at the forefront of international efforts to research and develop a vaccine. The government has already pledged £250 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the highest contribution of any nation, and the UK is hosting the upcoming global pledging conference for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, on 4 June. This is part of the UK committing £388 million to the international drive to develop vaccines, tests and treatments.

The announcement follows the appointment of leading figure in the life sciences sector, Kate Bingham as chair of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce – the group set up by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van Tam and Business Secretary, Alok Sharma to lead UK efforts to find and manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine.

The news was well received by CEPI and Imperial College London – both working at the forefront of tackling COVID-19. Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer of CEPI said: “CEPI applauds the UK’s latest pledge to scale-up funding for the Vaccine Manufacturing & Innovation Centre, which comes at a crucial point in the world’s response to the virus.

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.

Experts at VMIC have been working around the clock as part of the national vaccines industry taskforce, coordinated by the BioIndustry Association, 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.

The permanent VMIC facility at Harwell will house specialist advanced manufacturing 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.

Welcoming the scale-up and acceleration of the state-of-the art facility, Dr Barbara Ghinelli, Director of Harwell Clusters and Business Development at the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC), said: “Investing in the acceleration and expansion of VMIC is wise, both in the medium- and long-term. Opening the facility a year ahead of schedule will strengthen the UK’s efforts to tackle COVID-19 – and give us resilience for future pandemics.

In the long-term, with increased R&D and manufacturing capability, the Centre will act as a catalyst to strengthen the UK vaccines value chain – creating new fields of expertise and driving forward innovation to the benefit of the global science community.

VMIC was established by the University of Oxford, Imperial College and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine with support from industrial partners, Merck Sharpe & Dohme, Johnson & Johnson, and GE Healthcare. The new funding today comes through UK Research & Innovation, as part of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and is in addition to an original £65 million grant, with a further £10 million provided by industry partners and other businesses.

Harwell Science & Innovation Campus is rapidly expanding via a private public partnership between Brookfield Asset Management and two government agencies, the Science & Technology Facilities Council, part of UK Research & Innovation, and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.

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