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The challenge of making more vaccines faster

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The main thing I remember about January 2020 was the rain and the number of times I was stranded at railway stations as the tracks were washed away. A few weeks later, like all of us, I would have been grateful if it was just the weather that was bothering me.   The rest of 2020 feels like a blur, but a blur of activity and delivery and pressure to move faster.

If you ask any company what it’s like to work with government the words, slow and cautious might be the ones that come up.  What has been achieved in response to the pandemic has been the polar opposite.

Photo of VMIC building courtesy of VMIC.

Expanding and accelerating delivery

The most obvious contribution from the challenge has been the acceleration and expansion of the UKRI funded Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC).  VMIC staff had been involved in the response to coronavirus from almost day one, their manufacturing expertise contributing to the development of the supply chain for the early clinical supplies of the Oxford vaccine.  Within days, though, VMIC was asked for a plan to dramatically expand and accelerate their delivery and in just weeks they’d developed a plan to increase the amount of vaccine they could produce from millions of doses to tens of millions and accelerate delivery of the facility by a year.

So, imagine our thoughts when we presented this to ministers and they said “it’s not enough, we need more faster.”  However, that’s what VMIC has done, by working collaboratively with Oxford Biomedica, using equipment destined for VMIC; together we were able to put in place the rapid deployment capability.  Last month we received a MHRA licence for that facility and vaccine production can be underway, less than 6 months after the idea was conceived.

And this week we heard that the Oxford vaccine has shown more than promising results – with the potential for up to 90% effectiveness depending on the doses patients are given.

Photo of Harwell Campus courtesy of VMIC.

Unprecedented demand and response

Working with the UK Bioindustry Association and latterly the Vaccines Taskforce, the wider medicines manufacturing community has responded magnificently to the need to develop manufacturing capability.  The Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre leadership team have worked with The National Biologics Manufacturing Centre to provide a manufacturing capacity for RNA vaccines while the Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult facility in Braintree has led the repurposing of a veterinary vaccine facility to produce human vaccines.

Photo copyright John Cairns, courtesy of VMIC shows serum processing for the Covid-19 vaccine

The story continues

All this would have been impressive enough but as the UKRI medicines manufacturing challenge itself continues to deliver, the community continues to contribute to the pandemic response.

We are now planning for the next chapter of our work to transform medicines manufacturing, contributing to the Vaccine Taskforce legacy.  That’s a story for another blog post though.  You could call it the second half of my story.


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