The government has announced it will invest £100m into a new state-of-the-art centre to scale up a potential coronavirus vaccine currently being developed by the University of Oxford, amid mounting fears of a second wave of the virus in the winter.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) today announced it will plug an extra £100m into the UK’s vaccine efforts by funding a new Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Essex.
The centre, due to open in December 2021, will have the capacity to produce millions of doses of a potential vaccine each month, as the UK pushes ahead in the global race for a Covid-19 vaccine.
Beis said the initiative will upgrade an existing facility to create a fully-licensed manufacturing centre, in a bid to increase the UK’s ability to respond to diseases like coronavirus and to prepare for potential future pandemics.
Government officials added that the new centre will help create new, high-skilled jobs to fuel the UK’s economic recovery, as Britain faces its worst recession on record.
Employment in the cell and gene therapy sector is predicted to reach over 6,000 jobs by 2024, with over 3,000 in manufacturing and bioprocessing.
The new centre will complement the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) currently under construction in Oxfordshire.
Once complete next year, the facility will have the capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to serve the entire UK population at scale, Beis said today.
The government also announced an additional £4.7m for new training facilities and an online learning platform to boost vaccine and cell and gene therapy skills.
Business secretary Alok Sharma said: “We are taking all necessary steps to ensure we can vaccinate the public as soon as a successful Covid-19 vaccine becomes available.
“This new Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Innovation Centre, alongside crucial investment in skills, will support our efforts to rapidly produce millions of doses of a coronavirus vaccine while ensuring the UK can respond quickly to potential future pandemics.”
Kate Bingham, chair of the Vaccines Taskforce said: “Today’s announcement is another important milestone for us. The work of the Vaccines Taskforce is focused on protecting the UK against Covid-19 through vaccination as quickly as possible.
“In order to vaccinate our high-risk populations at the earliest opportunity, the government has agreed to proactively manufacture vaccines now, so we have millions of doses of vaccine ready if they are shown to be safe and effective.”
She added: “The acquisition of this state-of-the-art manufacturing centre will not only help us with this, but also ensures we are well-placed as a country to be able to cope with any pandemics or health crises in the future.”
Hopes were lifted earlier this week as a potential coronavirus vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceuticals giant Astrazeneca was deemed safe and found to induce a “strong response” from the immune system, in a major global breakthrough.
An initial trial of 1,077 people showed that the injection produced antibodies and white blood cells in patients, a new study published in the Lancet medical journal found.
However, deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the rollout of a potential coronavirus vaccine will likely be limited to the most at-risk members of the public such as the elderly.
“As we know with this disease, the likelihood of death changes markedly with age. And so the risk benefit for a vaccine is likely to be very different by age.”
He added: “We’ll deal with a very large amount of the population who have the mortality loaded against them at the moment.”
However Whitty threw cold water on hopes that a vaccine might be ready by winter, telling a Commons committee on Tuesday: “No one should be under any illusions — the chances of us getting a vaccine by Christmas that is actually highly effective is in my view very low.”