The U.K. government placed its centerpiece vaccine manufacturing facility near Oxford on the auction block in a bid to recoup about 215 million pounds ($287 million) it had invested in the site, the Financial Times reports. The facility has already attracted several offers, according to the newspaper.
With the pharmaceutical industry stepping up during the COVID-19 pandemic to develop, manufacture and distribute vaccines, the government no longer sees a reason to hold on to the site, which requires additional funding to be completed, unnamed sources told FT. The government unveiled plans for the Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC) in 2018 as part of an effort to be prepared for future infectious disease outbreaks.
Interested bidders include Oxford BioMedica, Swiss CDMO giant Lonza and Japan’s Fujifilm, the FT's sources said. The companies and academic institutions associated with VMIC declined to comment for the FT story. Proposals for the future of VMIC range from an outright sale to a potential lease.
“Things are tight and so they’re looking for a way to recoup some of that cost,” a source quoted by the publication said, drawing a comparison to the September cancellation of a COVID-19 vaccine contract with French biotech Valneva that included public investment in a production facility in Scotland.
VMIC, touted as a factory of the future, was established as a nonprofit between the University of Oxford, Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, with Merck & Co. and Janssen also chipping in. The U.K. government upped its ante in VMIC in May 2020 with a 131 million pound ($174 million) contribution designed to speed development of a COVID-19 vaccine.