The story of the Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre so far

History of VMIC

The need for, and concept of the Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC) evolved from the response to the Ebola outbreak of 2014 with a mission to find new ways to innovate the way vaccines were developed.  Through the support of vaccine industry experts MSD, Johnson and Johnson, and Cytiva, the University of Oxford, Imperial College, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine the first formal structures of VMIC were formed in 2018, alongside £66m of funding from Innovate UK.

As such VMIC started as a partnership between the public sector, industry and academia, not a government owned facility

VMIC’s four mission statements were:

  • innovate new technologies, like personalised cancer vaccines
  • enable a limited response to local outbreaks of pathogens like Zika and Ebola
  • address a structural gap in the UK’s late-stage vaccine development
  • stimulate further investment in this sector in the UK

Role change in the COVID era, and change again…

VMIC’s strategic potential was identified early in the COVID-19 pandemic by the Government, academia and industry, as a key potential resource. Even though it wasn’t built or open – accelerating its timeframe and expanding its mission to include the capacity for vaccine manufacturing at scale was swiftly agreed, given the lack of manufacturing capacity globally for vaccines in 2020. Funding was provided to “accelerate the timeline for VMIC to be operationally ready so it can support the national response to (coronavirus) COVID-19”. This resulted in significant investments from the Government at the start of the pandemic.  

Things have moved fast in two years since then. Scaled up production of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was delivered in the UK from Cobra and Oxford Biomedica’s existing facilities from spring 2020 (sometimes perhaps confusingly dubbed “virtual VMIC”). The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine was bought from Belgium.  As the Government’s procurement policy on vaccines evolved through last year the initial 2020 rationale for the expansion of VMIC into a factory no longer held, so the Government took the decision not to continue with the further investments needed to bring VMIC online. This triggered VMIC’s Board to push ahead with the sale of the incomplete facility in the autumn.

An international buyer, shows international opportunity in the UK

Catalent will now develop the facility as a working factory capable of making a range of vaccines and therapeutics.

The life sciences sector is a truly global sector, where partnerships and collaboration stretch across borders, the purchase of the VMIC facility by a globally capable medicine manufacturer is welcome. Catalent have a heavy US based manufacturing capability, they have the track record of, and ability, to invest further in the site and team.

It is testament to the appeal of the UK and the Oxford life sciences cluster that a global player wants to increase its manufacturing footprint in the UK.

Innovation is not factory scale production

The core of VMIC’s original mission, was to support innovation. The innovation agenda is broad but a simple example would be efforts to modify the delivery of vaccines from vials, which often require cold chain storage, to an easier form of deployment such as through a nasal spray, pill or patch.

It is vital that UK funding pipeline for this continues. It is core to the success of the  ambitious 100-day plan presented by Sir Patrick Vallance at the UK’s hosting of the G7 last year.

A lesson in Industrial strategy?

What the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised in both cabinet rooms and company board rooms, is the need to increase global manufacturing capability. The UK’s fast response in developing, manufacturing, approving and deploying vaccines for this pandemic has been a signal to the globe that the UK has a robust science and innovation base, with companies capable of scaling up products at speed and risk.

And in some senses this story shows a nimble UK state acting like one of its Asian competitors. The public sector investing at pace and risk in the creation and initial scale up of a facility and then leveraging in private sector investment to finish and ultimately own the manufacturing facility has been a successful policy of the South Korean government. Could this be a model for other industrial strategic developments?

Building a world class regulated medicine manufacturing site at pace and having the people to run it isn’t easy, but the UK has pulled this off. With new experienced management now able to run and expand the investment (like we have from Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies in Billingham) this shows a positive long-term legacy from the COVID-19 era.

The speed, boldness and capability of government infrastructure investment has attracted a significant global investment – we should see this as a successful industrial strategy model to be followed? Without the Government’s historic investments in Advanced Therapies, it is debatable whether the UK’s manufacturing community could have pivoted as quickly and effectively as it did to support COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing.

There are global players actively looking at investing in the UK which could onshore key components of global supply chains for this pandemic, future pandemics and other health crises. If these potential investments are supported by active Government policy and crucially, the Treasury, the UK can continue to see the long-term strategic and economic benefit of continuing onshoring medicine manufacturing capability.

Private sector and public sector investments during the pandemic have increased UK manufacturing capability

We have seen an uptick in private investments and partnerships into UK life sciences manufacturing since the pandemic. Tokyo headquartered Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies announced a £400m investment in Billingham, doubling the site’s existing development and manufacturing footprint (including in mRNA), which will be a key component of the Novavax UK supply chain and is expected to create 350 jobs. Pfizer’s deal with Thermofisher in Swindon to fill finish their vaccine will add significant capacity to Pfizer’s global network and create 200 jobs.

The Government recently announced a £15.9 million investment into Croda’s Staffordshire facility to increase the UK’s capacity of lipids, which are used to create lipid nanoparticles which are a crucial component of mRNA vaccines and therapies. Wockhardt who have been fill finishing the AstraZeneca vaccine here in the UK, have recently announced a deal with the Serum Institute of India to build a new fill and finish site in Wrexham

Touchlight Genetics have invested £42m into their manufacturing base in West London, which will be a world leading site for manufacturing DNA and will triple its manufacturing footprint. While Oxford Biomedica has announced a partnership agreement with the global medicine manufacturing giant the Serum Institute of India.

The UK’s medicine catapult network has also seen expansion in terms of facilities and remit, the new Cell and Gene Manufacturing Innovation Centre (CGMIC) in Braintree will support the work being undertaken at the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult in Stevenage, while CPI in Darlington has had investments for an mRNA library and mRNA training academy.

This increase in size, knowledge and capability in UK manufacturing whether in private and public settings means the UK has seen a notable increase in current and future manufacturing capability from the BIA’s original manufacturing capability audit of its members in February 2020.

The UK needs to do two things to ensure it has the agile factory capacity and skilled workforce it will need in to respond to the next pandemic in the years ahead. One is super smart and strategic NHS and UKSHA procurement, the second is to support and celebrate the skills and entrepreneurial leadership of our cutting-edge UK medicine manufacturers to win significant orders in an expanding global market.

VMIC has already delivered benefit to the UK’s response to COVID-19

The urgent global demand for a COVID-19 vaccine was unprecedented. After a request in February 2020 from Professor Cath Green at the Oxford University Clinical Biomanufacturing facility, on what manufacturing capability was available to help scale up the Oxford University vaccine for clinical trials, the BIA carried out a manufacturing capability audit of its members to understand the capability we had in the UK and what companies could do to help.

There was incredible appetite from medicine manufacturers of all sizes and the BIA established a COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing consortium which was chaired by Ian McCubbin CBE, former VP for global supply at GSK and later in the pandemic, vaccine manufacturing lead on the VTF. The consortium supported primarily both the Oxford University and Imperial College London vaccine candidates assessing what was required to manufacture and scale up doses here in the UK and provided expertise and knowledge as other viable vaccine candidates emerged. 

The BIA’s manufacturing consortium included: Pall Biotech, Oxford Biomedica, Cobra Biologics, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and the Centre of Process Innovation (CPI). VMIC entered this consortium early to discuss what potential role it could play in manufacturing support for a variety of vaccine candidates. The expertise of VMIC has already been used to support manufacturing and process development of COVID-19 vaccines. Members of the BIA consortium supported AstraZeneca when it added its global industrial heft in April 2020 and companies such as Oxford Biomedica and Cobra Biologics became key components of AstraZeneca’s UK supply chain.

All these organisations have benefitted from having the skills of VMIC at the virtual table, expertise was shared on how to create not only viral vector vaccines but mRNA and other vaccine candidates.

Conclusion

The Government hopes to move from pandemic to endemic, to do this collaboration efforts across all areas of the UK’s response to COVID-19 need to continue at pace so that we meet the ambitions of the 100 day mission to give the UK and the globe more capacity for this pandemic and those in the future. 

The increased investment in both private and public sector facilities has downgraded the role VMIC was originally planned to have and even without a facility, it has supported manufacturing, scale up, knowledge sharing for COVID-19 vaccines.

Medicine manufacturing is increasing at rates not seen in the UK industry in many decades, keeping this momentum going will be a key task of industry, academia and government as we move forward.

Steve Bates.jpg 1
Steve Bates FMed Sci, OBE

CEO Bio Industry Association

BIA

Steve Bates has been leading the UK Bioindustry Association as CEO since 2012. He currently chairs the International Council of Biotech Associations and has been a board member of Europabio since 2015. He sits on the UK’s Life Sciences Council. Steve is the visible face of the vibrant UK life sciences industry to government and media. Steve was a founder member of the UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce in the Covid crisis, sitting on its steering Board alongside Kate Bingham.

Steve has championed, with government, effective industrial incentives like the Biomedical Catalyst, which have crowded in private sector investment into UK SMES. He has forged several links for the sector across the USA, Europe and in China. In his time at the BIA, Steve has developed new member groups focused on cell and gene therapy, genomics and engineered biology. A strong advocate of partnership working, Steve champions sector collaboration with research charities and academia. Proud to lead an organisation with a diverse Board with over 40% female representation, Steve is committed to next generation talent and developing the skills needed for the sector to flourish.

Before the BIA, Steve worked for Genzyme and was advisor to the UK Government of Tony Blair. He was made OBE for services to innovation in 2017 and became a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Science in 2020.

 


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