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UK pledges £131m for a “rapid deployment facility” to make coronavirus vaccines

As AstraZeneca says it will be able to make up to 30 million doses of coronavirus vaccine by September as part of its deal with the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine team

Coronavirus vaccine

The UK is investing in a “rapid deployment facility” that should be ready to start making coronavirus vaccines this summer, according to the government.

The £38m ($46m) “virtual” plant is a predecessor to the national Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) in Harwell, Oxford, which was due to open in 2022 but has been brought forward a year in response to the coronavirus pandemic thanks to another £93m in government funding.

The intention is to be able to make millions of doses of vaccine at scale, enough to serve the entire population in as little as six months once the VMIC is fully operational, said business secretary Alok Sharma during the government’s daily press briefing yesterday.

The rapid facility will be set up as a temporary manufacturing centre “ready to make vaccines at pace and scale once a viable COVID-19 vaccine has been found”, according to the Harwell campus. Construction work on the 7,000 m2 permanent VMIC started in April.

There are two coronavirus vaccines at or near the clinical trial stage in the UK – an adenoviral shot from the University of Oxford and another mRNA-based candidate from a team at Imperial College London, with others in preclinical development.

The VMIC will however eventually be used to produce whichever vaccine from around the world proves to be the best option after clinical testing, said Professor Robin Shattock of ICL, chair of the board of directors at VMIC, on the BBC’s Today programme this morning.

“It will make the vaccines that are needed,” he stressed. The VMIC was originally conceived before the pandemic, but the government has put forward the money needed to bring the project to fruition more quickly, added Professor Shattock.

At the same time, AstraZeneca has said it will be able to make up to 30 million doses of coronavirus vaccine by September, and 100 million by the end of the year, after signing a deal with the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine team to make their ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 candidate.

Oxford’s adenoviral candidate has also been awarded another £65.5m in government support, while the ICL project gets £18.5m, adding to an earlier tranche of funding for both projects awarded earlier this year.

The Oxford team has completed a first round of dosing in trials and are awaiting results late this month, while the Imperial team is due to start human testing in June.

VMIC was established by Oxford, Imperial and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with support from MSD, Johnson & Johnson, and GE Healthcare and funding from UK Research and Innovation.

Article by
Phil Taylor

18th May 2020

From: Research

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