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UK invests £215m to develop and manufacture Covid-19 vaccine

Wellcome survey reveals overwhelming public support for global access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments

The government has announced a £215 million investment to help develop and manufacture a vaccine against coronavirus.

The new funding includes £93 million to ensure that the UK’s first Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre—located at the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire—can open in July 2021, a year ahead of schedule, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced on 17 May.

“The centre—which is already under construction—will have capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to serve the entire UK population in as little as six months,” business secretary Alok Sharma said.

While the centre is being built, the government will invest a further £38m into a “rapid deployment facility” to ensure a Covid-19 vaccine can be manufactured at scale from summer 2020.

In addition, the government announced funding worth £84m to help researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Oxford to develop a vaccine. The funding is in addition to the £47m of public money invested in both vaccine programmes so far.

“This new money will help mass-produce the Oxford vaccine, so that if current clinical trials are successful, we have dosages to start vaccinating the UK population straight away,” said Sharma. “The funding will also allow Imperial to launch phase-three clinical trials of its vaccine later this year.”

The news follows the appointment of biochemist Kate Bingham as chair of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce to help lead UK efforts to find and manufacture a Covid-19 vaccine.

Bingham will temporarily step back from her role as a managing partner at the international life sciences venture capital firm SV Health Investors to lead the taskforce, BEIS announced on 16 May.

“Our immediate aim on vaccines is two-fold: to ensure everyone in the UK that needs to be vaccinated against Covid-19 can be as soon as practicable,” she said. “Secondly, to ensure adequate global distribution of vaccines to bring the quickest possible end to the pandemic and the economic and social damage it causes.”

Meanwhile, a YouGov poll commissioned by the Wellcome Trust has revealed that nine in 10 adults in the UK believe national governments should work together to ensure that Covid-19 treatments and vaccines can be manufactured in as many countries as possible and distributed globally to everyone who needs them.

Fewer than half of surveyed people agreed that treatments and vaccines should be first provided to those in the country in which the vaccines were first developed.

“No country should consider reserving possible future vaccines and treatments for their use only,” said Alex Harris, head of global policy at Wellcome. “These results clearly show that this approach would not be supported by the people of the UK.”