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Experts call for investment in vaccine manufacturing

Work on producing vaccines needs to happen alongside early development research, MPs told

The UK needs to boost investment in vaccine production facilities now in order to avoid any delays to curbing the Covid-19 pandemic, expert have told MPs.

Research teams in the UK, including at Oxford and Cambridge, are already working on designing and testing vaccines to fight the coronavirus. But if those vaccines prove safe and efficient they will need to be produced in large doses, and that stage of the process needs more investment, a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee hearing on 25 March heard.

“We need to do that now, we probably should have done that yesterday,” said Melanie Saville, director of vaccine research and development at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

“If you wait until you have results [of development work] you will delay the whole process by six months to a year…We obviously need more funding.”

The warning follows concerns that the UK does not have enough local manufacturing capability and will not be at the front of the queue for vaccines produced elsewhere.

“The UK government has invested substantially in starting to build new manufacturing facility, called VIMC, and that was a decision after the ebola outbreak to try to improve capacity,” Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatric infection and immunity at the University of Oxford, told the hearing. “Unfortunately, that building is only just starting.”

Importantly, Pollard said, different types of vaccines will need different types of manufacturing, all of which should be set up in advance to be ready to make the vaccine quickly and at scale.

“For example, [for] the one being developed in Oxford you have to have a cell line in which to grow the virus that we are using to make the vaccines. Other types of vaccine need a completely different process. One of the things that is needed is investment now to make that happen.”