Janssen, Merck chip in for $100M U.K. vaccine center to help fight epidemics

Oxford Science Park
Janssen and Merck are helping the U.K. government build a dedicated vaccine manufacturing and innovation center in Oxford. (Oxford Science Park)

To help prepare the post-Brexit U.K.—and potentially the world—for future disease outbreaks, the U.K. government, with help from academic institutions and the pharma industry, is building the country’s first vaccines manufacturing and innovation center with about $100 million in funding.

The U.K. government is investing £66 million ($84 million) in the center through a public-private partnership called UK Research and Innovation, while an additional £10 million will come from Janssen, Merck & Co. (known as Merck Sharp & Dohme in the U.K.), and biomedical research charity the Wellcome Trust.

Based in Oxford and slated to open in 2022, the center will focus on creating rapid, cost-effective ways of developing and manufacturing vaccines for clinical trials and global distribution, as well as the U.K.’s own emergency preparedness during a pandemic. It will also work on new technologies, including personalized cancer vaccines and vectors for gene therapy.

Ebola and Lassa fever are among the life-threatening infectious diseases the U.K. center will tackle, U.K.’s Business Secretary Greg Clark said in an announcement Saturday.

In addition to the money, Janssen and Merck will contribute their expertise at designing and building the facility, and in vaccine manufacturing and development. The Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine will pitch in research know-how, while GE Healthcare will provide bioprocessing acumen and training.

RELATED: Merck starts rolling FDA submission for its Ebola vaccine, aiming to finish next year

Both Merck and Janssen have been at the forefront of Ebola vaccine research. Merck’s rVSV-ZEBOV is the most advanced; the company has just started a rolling submission of approval for the vaccine to the FDA, and it's been deployed on an emergency basis to battle several outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Janssen's own experimental Ebola candidate, an adenovirus-vectored vaccine, is paired up with Bavarian Nordic’s MVA-BN vaccine in a prime-boost regimen.

“We remain committed to working in collaboration with partners to achieve licensure for the Janssen Ebola vaccine regimen and are also maintaining a stockpile of two million regimens in support of outbreak preparedness,” said parent Johnson & Johnson in a statement on Monday.

RELATED: Outbreak alliance hands Johnson & Johnson, Oxford $18.7M for MERS work and more

In January 2017, J&J and Merck joined forces with other major vaccine developers, governments from around the world, and charities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust to establish the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a public-private partnership aimed at accelerating development of vaccines for emerging diseases with epidemic potential.

Back in September, CEPI awarded $18.7 million to a partnership between J&J and Jenner Institute to work on vaccines against MERS, Lassa Fever and Nipah, the three priority targets the nonprofit has identified for vaccine development.