The world class centre that will give the UK sovereign resilience and a global platform in the fight against Covid and many other diseases besides.
The Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, a not-for-profit organisation established to provide the UK’s first strategic vaccine development and advanced manufacturing capability, has signed its first industry partnership agreement with gene and cell therapy group Oxford Biomedica plc.
The agreement signed on June 8th involves the organisations collaborating to enable scaled-up manufacture of viral vector based vaccines, with an immediate focus on a vaccine for COVID-19, the first of which is the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca adenovirus vector vaccine candidate AZD1222 (previously known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19).
This partnership marks the first step in the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) delivering the ‘Virtual VMIC’ programme, a rapid deployment enterprise designed to make vaccines at pace and scale once a viable COVID-19 vaccine has been found.
Meanwhile, VMIC’s permanent facility is under construction at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire
Due to open in mid-2021, the permanent facility will have the capability to produce up to 70million pandemic vaccine doses within four to six months of opening.
As part of the June 8th agreement, Virtual VMIC will procure specialist manufacturing equipment to rapidly equip two new Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) manufacturing suites.
This equipment will be housed within Oxford Biomedica’s new commercial manufacturing centre, Oxbox, located in Oxford.
Vaccine manufactured here will form part of the national effort to meet demand for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Oxford Biomedica will provide training and technical assistance to VMIC staff as part of a programme of activity to accelerate the operational readiness and GMP manufacturing capabilities for viral vector vaccine candidates at VMIC’s new manufacturing facility.
The agreement provides a framework for a longer-term partnership between Oxford Biomedica and VMIC to explore other novel viral vector vaccine candidates.
VMIC chief executive Matthew Duchars said: “This collaboration with Oxford Biomedica means that we can increase the UK’s capacity to manufacture viral vector vaccines in 2020 as part of a national effort in response to COVID-19.
“This marks a major milestone for VMIC in setting up collaborative partnerships with industry.
“It is the first agreement outside of our founding partners under VMIC’s longer term objective to work with, and enhance, the vaccine industry in the UK and abroad.”
John Dawson, chief executive of Oxford Biomedica, said: “Since we became involved in addressing the urgent need for UK manufacturing capacity for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate AZD1222, we have strived to support VMIC’s broader goal of accelerating and supporting UK manufacturing capacity and capabilities for vaccines more generally.
“This highly collaborative partnership allows for a rapid deployment capability to be established, and also accelerates fit out and utilisation of another two GMP manufacturing suites within our new commercial manufacturing facility, Oxbox.”
Kate Bingham, chair of the Vaccine Taskforce, said: “The Government is backing the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre as a crucial part of securing long-term vaccine manufacturing capability in the UK.
“Viral vector COVID-19 vaccine candidates are showing significant promise. This new partnership between VMIC and Oxford Biomedica marks a major milestone in
increasing the UK manufacturing capacity of viral vector vaccines and will specifically help ensure that we have the right skills in place to manufacture a vaccine as soon as one is available.”
Both VMIC and Oxford Biomedica are original members of the University of Oxford, Jenner Institute manufacturing consortium focused on scaling-up the GMP manufacture of AZD1222, which has entered clinical trials at multiple sites in the UK.
VMIC has also been working as part of the national vaccines industry taskforce, where it advises on how the manufacture of any COVID-19 vaccine candidates can be scaled-up.
The construction of the UK’s new vaccines centre started well ahead of schedule as timelines were fast-tracked due to Covid-19.
Construction work at the site in Harwell began in early April in a rapidly accelerated programme.
The target now is to get the 7,000m2 state-of-the-art facility open in 2021, rather than 2022, giving the UK’s emergency response capability a shot in the arm.
The new centre has come about thanks to an unprecedented collaborative effort between VMIC, Harwell Campus, the Vale of the White Horse District Council, and UK Research and Innovation.
VMIC itself was established by Oxford University, Imperial College London and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with support from industrial partners Merck Sharp and Dohme, Johnson and Johnson, and GE Healthcare.
The centre’s main funding is a £65 million grant from UK Research and Innovation, as part of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
The director of Harwell Campus, Angus Horner, said: “Early delivery of VMIC will give UK sovereign resilience and also a new base from where we can support other countries, in the global battle against Covid-19, plus prepare to meet future threats.”
VMIC will occupy a prominent location on the 700-acre Harwell Campus, home to 5,500 people across 225 organisations, including the 30 universities represented on site.
As a pillar organisation with the Harwell HealthTec Cluster (58 organisations collectively employing 1,250 people), VMIC will be co-located with the UK’s open access National Laboratories, including the Diamond Light Source and The Rosalind Franklin Institute, among many others working in the global and UK life sciences sector.
It was announced in mid-May that VMIC was launching ‘Virtual VMIC’ in order to rapidly expand the UK’s capacity to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine.
At the same time, it said it would be ramping up the manufacturing capacity at its permanent facility to produce 70million vaccine doses within four to six months of opening, a twenty-fold increase on its original figure.
As such, it has been awarded up to £131million by the Government in two funding reviews – £93million to expand the permanent facility’s capabilities and fast track the build, and £38million to create ‘Virtual VMIC’.
The latter entails procuring manufacturing equipment, recruiting highly-skilled specialists and securing physical space to create the temporary manufacturing centre ready to make vaccines at pace and scale once a viable COVID-19 vaccine has been found.