U.K. grants new vaccine manufacturing center £131M as researchers race to deliver a COVID-19 shot

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies and organizations worldwide to change courses, and the U.K.’s Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) is no different. With a new £131 million contribution from the U.K. government, the center aims to both speed up and expand upon its prior ambitions.

A response to the Ebola crisis, the VMIC came together after it “became apparent … that there wasn’t a centralized facility” where vaccine researchers could take their work to “rapidly develop” manufacturing processes and produce clinical supplies, CEO Matthew Duchars told FiercePharma.

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The University of Oxford, Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine proposed such a center, and the U.K. government committed £65 million in 2018, Duchars said. Then, as the group was moving forward, the pandemic hit.

Now, the U.K. government is committing another £131 million so the center can come online next summer⁠—a year earlier than previously planned⁠—and dramatically expand its capacity. In the meantime, the funding also covers a "virtual VMIC” for purchasing manufacturing equipment, recruiting staff and setting up a physical space to help make COVID-19 vaccines this year.

“This is a transformational moment for our organization to be part of a national and global response, and we’re very proud to be part of that,” Duchars said. Even beyond COVID-19, VMIC also aims to be a partner for vaccine developers worldwide that could tap its manufacturing and development expertise for various diseases.

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The news comes amid a global race for a COVID-19 vaccine. Sunday, the U.K. government announced that AstraZeneca signed up to supply early doses of the company’s vaccine—originally developed by the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute—to the country if it succeeds in testing. Thursday, the U.S. inked a $1.2 billion development and manufacturing deal with the drugmaker.

Aside from AstraZeneca, other global drug giants—including Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Sanofi—are involved in COVID-19 vaccine work. Boston biotech Moderna recently turned in positive phase 1 data, raising hope for a vaccine in record time.