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Construction starts early on vaccine-manufacturing centre

Image: Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre

Fast-tracked £65m Oxford facility is expected to be ready a year early, in 2021

Construction work has begun ahead of time on a vaccine manufacturing facility at the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire as timelines are fast-tracked due to Covid-19.

It is hoped that the 7,000-square-metre Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (pictured) will open its doors in 2021—ahead of the original scheduled date in 2022.

The centre says it will provide “the country’s first bespoke strategic vaccine development and manufacturing capability” and that is has accelerated construction “in order to bring the facility on line early so that it can provide an emergency response capability for the UK”.

“No one could have predicted the Covid-19 outbreak,” said Matthew Duchars, chief executive of the centre.

“We are doing all we can to fast track the build so VMIC is set up to offer long-term support to the UK’s future vaccines needs while simultaneously contributing right now to the vital work that will help us emerge from this pandemic.”

He added that VMIC scientists were working “round the clock” with the University of Oxford advising on manufacturing options for the vaccine candidate ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, which is expected to go into human trial on 23 April.

Angus Horner, director at Harwell Campus, where VMIC is based, said: “Early delivery of VMIC will give UK sovereign resilience and also a new base from where we can support other countries in the global battle against Covid-19, plus prepare to meet future threats.”

The centre was established by the University of Oxford, Imperial College London and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, along with industrial partners Merck Sharp and Dohme, Johnson and Johnson, and GE Healthcare.

Its main funding is a £65 million grant from UK Research and Innovation, as part of the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The news come as the health secretary Matt Hancock announced a further £42.5m towards clinical trials of two vaccines candidates, one developed at Oxford and another one at Imperial.

“At the same time we’ll invest in manufacturing capability,” said Hancock on 21 April. “The upside of being the first country in the world to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it.”

Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, told journalists last week that seven companies globally are partnering to help prepare manufacturing of Jenner’s vaccine.

Hill said the manufacturers would be contractors while the university would own most of the vaccine rights. “We have three manufacturing partners in the UK, two in continental Europe, one in India and one in China,” he said.

The UK partners are Pall Biotech in Portsmouth, Cobra Biologics in Staffordshire and Oxford Biomedica, while the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre that is being built is only expected to play a role next year.

“Best case scenario, I guess you might have hundreds of millions [of doses] by the end of the year,” said Hill. “This has been seen as such a priority by international agencies and governments, as well as companies, that when something works there’ll be a real surge in manufacturing.”