The U.K. has already invested heavily in the front-runner coronavirus vaccine from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. Now, the government is hedging its bets with an investment in a state-funded gene and cell therapy innovation center to produce enough shots for the entire nation—and respond to future diseases, too.
The U.K. government will pump £100 million ($127 million) into the expansion of a Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult manufacturing center to churn out doses of "any successful COVID vaccine" at scale for the country. The investment covers an existing CGT plant in Essex, England, that would be upgraded to produce millions vaccine doses each month when it comes online, potentially by December 2021, CGT said in a release.
The manufacturing revamp will also position the U.K. to deploy vaccines for emerging diseases well beyond the current pandemic, the group said, and augment the country's growing cell and gene therapy industry.
The new investment comes on the heels of plans to launch the U.K. Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Center (VMIC) in Oxfordshire, England, buoyed by a separate £93 million ($118 million) cash infusion from the government. That site, also set to come online next year, will boast capacity to produce enough shot doses to serve the entire U.K. population at scale, the government said.
But CGT isn't idling away its time waiting for the new sites to debut. The government-funded cell and gene therapy research center will open a rapid deployment facility later this summer, positioned to support wide-scale vaccination efforts as soon as a shot is approved. That site received £38 million ($48 million) from the U.K. toward its construction.
Meanwhile, the U.K. set aside £4.7 million ($5.9 million) more for Catapult to dispense vaccine and gene therapy know-how to prospective staffers, both in response to the current COVID-19 outbreak and potential future health crises. CGT will use those funds to invest in new training facilities, plus an online learning platform that provides industry-standard skills and training in advanced gene therapy and vaccine manufacturing.
6,000 new U.K. gene and cell therapy jobs are expected to open up by 2024, CGT said, with more than half of those specifically in manufacturing and bioprocessing. Plus, the government-funded center thinks the investment could help the U.K. recover from the pandemic beyond the realm of public health.
"We are delighted to be able to deploy the specialist capabilities of the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult in such an important initiative," CEO Matthew Durdy said. "Accelerating the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, increasing skills and employment, and facilitating growth of the advanced medicines industry will make a valuable contribution to the recovery of the economy."
In 2018, Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult opened a $83.8 million plant in Stevenage, England, to provide the advanced therapeutics industry with genes and cells for clinical trials. Autolus, Cell Medica, AdaptImmune, Freeline, Thermo Fisher and more partnered with CGT on the construction of the site, outfitted to supply viral vectors, too.
Across the pond, the U.S.' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has pumped its fair share of funding into vaccine efforts to shore up U.S. COVID-19 shot supplies. In April, the agency funneled $483 million into development of Moderna's Warp Speed-backed mRNA candidate.
Then in May, BARDA locked down 400 million doses of AstraZeneca's University of Oxford-partnered vaccine, handing over $1.2 billion to support production and development. Maryland-based CDMO Emergent Biosolutions also nabbed major funding from the U.S. government to make "tens to hundreds of millions" of shots available through 2021, while Regeneron scored $450 million from the Trump administration to cover supplies of its COVID-19-fighting antibody cocktail.
Meanwhile, the U.K. government has already provided £131 million ($166 million) to AstraZeneca for research into its Oxford-developed viral vector candidate. Earlier this week, the country secured 90 million vaccine doses from the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership and Valneva.