£131 million funding boost to expand UK capacity to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine

LSHTM is a partner in the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, which will be able to produce 70 million vaccine doses within 4-6 months of opening
Artist's render of the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre

The UK Government has awarded up to £131 million to the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) to fast-track the build of its permanent facility and to create a virtual VMIC ahead of this to rapidly expand the UK capacity to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine.

Launched in December 2018 with an initial opening date of summer 2022, the VMIC was designed to be a purpose-built, state-of-the-art facility that would pave the way for the rapid manufacture of vaccines in the event of a pandemic affecting the UK. It will now open a year ahead of schedule in summer 2021 thanks to £93m of the new funding.

Once open, manufacturing output at the permanent facility will be scaled-up 20-fold to ensure enough doses of a pandemic vaccine for the UK population within 4-6 months.

The virtual VMIC has received £38 million of the funding for its creation, which will mean procuring manufacturing equipment, recruiting highly-specialist people, 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. The virtual VMIC will be rolled-out through collaboration with industry partners and is supported by the national vaccines industry taskforce, coordinated by the BioIndustry Association.

Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “I'm delighted that funding has been allocated to accelerate the development of the VMIC. The only real exit strategy we have for COVID-19 is a vaccine. Although there is no guarantee we will get one, I am very hopeful. But having a vaccine is only part of the story. It must be given to billions of people so there can be no short cuts on safety, and there must be equitable access and manufacturing capacity. The VMIC will play a crucial role in all three aspects."

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.

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 of the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre said: “Today’s 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.”

Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer of CEPI, added: “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.”

The VMIC was also created to enable rapid global response to emerging infectious epidemic pathogens such as Ebola and Zika, and innovate new technologies including the manufacture of personalised cancer vaccines.

The permanent VMIC facility will be located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire. VMIC was established by the University of Oxford, Imperial College and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine with support from industrial partners, Merck Sharpe and Dohme, Johnson and Johnson, and GE Healthcare.

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