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Axing Valneva contract ‘short sighted’, says ex-vaccine tsar


Kate Bingham warns cancellation of vaccine contract could affect UK’s capability to tackle pandemics

The cancellation of a major contract with French vaccine developer Valneva was “short sighted” and puts the UK’s future capability to tackle pandemics at risk, the former head of the UK Vaccines Taskforce has said.

The UK government terminated a deal for 100 million doses of the company’s Covid-19 jab in September, just one month before the company reported positive phase 3 clinical trial results. The cancellation has raised questions over the future of the company’s site in Livingston, Scotland.

Kate Bingham, who led the taskforce between May and December 2020, said the decision was “problematic on various counts”.

“One of the things that we were keen to do was to make sure that the UK has flexible state-of-the-art manufacturing capability to deal with whatever potential current or future pandemic comes along,” she told MPs during a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee hearing on 14 December.

“So by cancelling the contract, we lose that capability. That plant’s not fully built yet and without completing the funding as per the contract, we won’t get either the capability or the jobs of the people trained to manufacture vaccines.”

She added that plants such as the one in Livingston were “flexible” as they could be used to manufacture a variety of vaccines, including whole-virus based vaccines, MRNA vaccines and even antibodies.

“So to me it was short sighted to cancel a capability of a state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing plant, which could have brought skills and jobs and economic benefits to the UK, over and above any vaccines that we may or may not procure.”

As well as the impact on the UK’s capabilities, Bingham said the decision to cancel the contract had also affected other countries that could potentially have benefited from the vaccine.

“To take a decision that just seems to be based on whether or not we in the UK want to use these vaccines for boosters…and therefore cancel the whole contract I think was short sighted,” she said.

Future investment

Asked by the committee what the government should be doing to prepare for new variants, Bingham said it was important to continue to invest in medicines manufacturing.

“I think we need to recognise specifically for vaccines…that it’s not just about procurement,” she said. “We’ve done plenty of procurement and that is now working well but the reason we did well in terms of getting of the blocks quickly was because we had capability already in UK medicines manufacturing and that was because we had invested in it in the long term.

“We need to continue doing that because it’s not just a matter of a quick procurement and then wait around a bit and then go back and procure again.

“We need to stay ahead of the curve so we can produce variant vaccines in 100 days or less—which is the goal—and do so with resources and capabilities and teams that [already] exist and are working on this rather than bringing together people in a hurry.”