I’m really excited to report that the largest single project in Wave 1 of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Medicines Manufacturing portfolio – the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) - is now under way.
My job for much of 2018, as Interim Challenge Director, has been to set up the first wave of investments. Put simply, this Centre will make better vaccines, more quickly, to help save thousands of lives across the world and protect just as many here in the UK. This £66m investment will be led by a new company: Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre UK Ltd (VMIC).
The Company was registered earlier this year by Professor Adrian Hill of the University of Oxford Department of Healthcare Science. The management Board now has representatives from all the collaborators: a powerful team comprising leading UK commercial and academic organisations, to make a world-class operation.
A national resource
The Project has been the subject of a lot of speculation and it’s the topic that I have been most often asked about at public meetings. The recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, is welcome news for the UK in two main ways:
- We need protection. Major epidemics and pandemics are not a thing of the past. A few years ago the threat of avian flu enjoyed a spell in headlines. Public interest waned but the threat has not gone away. The UK needs the capacity and the speed of response to provide vaccines at the required scale quickly in an outbreak.
- New technology platforms are needed. Since 2008 it is more important than ever for government investments to be capital-efficient. The scale of manufacture must be large relative to the costs of set-up. VMIC will satisfy this with higher product yields, shorter cycle times and lower costs. The facility aims to manufacture millions of doses in the response time needed.
Preparing for future threats
We can’t be sure what diseases will be the biggest future threats. The concerns that persist include Ebola, Zika, MERS, Lassa, Nipah and SARS but there will be others.
An effective national response must bring vaccines to emergency workers and the general public in the shortest possible time. In an outbreak threat the Global Health Security Programme team at the Department of Health will immediately step in to work with the VMIC management team to ensure that the national priorities are met.
A winning team
VMIC has a great balance of skills. This is a design-and-build project for a completely new building (not a retro-fit). Purpose-designed process architecture is involved. The work will be driven by property specialists alongside scientists and engineers.
Three academic institutions founded VMIC:
- University of Oxford
- Imperial College
- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Industrial partners with extensive experience in vaccine manufacturing and development, including Janssen Vaccines & Prevention B.V. and Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD), will support this through IP, personnel and additional funding.
VMIC’s COO, Chris Lucas, is an experienced industry professional with several successful large-scale build projects in his CV. The facility will be ready in three years and a transition to independent revenue will occur after this time and it will not simply be for the use of the partners. The facility will not simply be for the use of the partners. It will be open to other users providing opportunities for smaller companies to benefit from the programme.
We can expect to see other vaccine innovators and support services such as supply-chain specialists, clustering around the core team.
After careful consideration the new facility will be built on the Oxford Science Park.
VMIC is not just about vaccines. Other biological medicines, including vectors for gene therapy and cancer therapy products, will also be developed. Existing methods of production will be improved, and new ones created. Job opportunities will arise, and the support industries will receive a boost.
The centre will act as a focus for the growth of SMEs with new medicines technology offerings, for support industries such as controlled-temperature transport, cell banking and raw materials suppliers and for high-value manufacturing job creation.
The new centre will be completed towards the end of 2021 and development activity followed by production will commence in 2022. I look forward to seeing the creation of this new facility.
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