The Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC), a not-for-profit organisation providing the UK’s first strategic vaccine development and advanced manufacturing capability, has been awarded up to £131million by the Government which sees investment in the UK’s vaccines infrastructure and an increase in capacity to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine.
VMIC will invest in more technology to increase its manufacturing capacity at its permanent facility, currently being built at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, in order to produce 70million vaccine doses in 4-6 months from opening – a 20fold increase from current figures. Furthermore, the facility’s building schedule will be accelerated to allow it to come online in Summer 2021 – a year ahead of schedule.
A ‘virtual VMIC’ will be created, meaning 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.
In response to the funding announcement made by Business Secretary Alok Sharma, 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.”
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 and 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 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, UKRI-STFC concluded “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 and Tropical Medicine with support from industrial partners, Merck Sharpe and Dohme, Johnson and Johnson, and GE Healthcare. The funding today comes through UK Research and 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.