- Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, a biotech accelerator group in the U.K., said Thursday that it will receive nearly $130 million worth of funding from the government there to build a manufacturing center aimed at speeding up production of a successful vaccine for the new coronavirus.
- The center will be located in Braintree, Essex, at an existing facility upgraded to have the capacity to produce millions of vaccine doses each month. Scheduled to open in December 2021, the center is meant to respond to both the current coronavirus pandemic as well as future ones, according to a statement from CGTC.
- The funding comes as several experimental vaccines for the new coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, move into the later stages of human testing. Should any vaccine gain approval, it would be a massive undertaking to produce the millions — if not billions — of doses required to protect against the virus. To prepare for that demand, governments in the U.K., U.S. and elsewhere have been investing in manufacturing infrastructure and securing doses for their citizens ahead of time.
The U.K. government, like others, has been working to ensure that, when a coronavirus vaccine emerges, the country will have access and the manufacturing power to supply it.
Just this week, Pfizer and its Germany-based partner BioNTech, which are among the leaders in the vaccine race, agreed to give the U.K. 30 million doses of their shot if it's approved. Two months earlier, the British government traded almost $80 million worth of funding to AstraZeneca and Oxford University in exchange for 30 million doses of their vaccine candidate.
The U.K. government also recently deployed another 93 million British pounds to accelerate the construction of the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre — which, according to a May release, should be open by summer 2021, with enough capacity to produce vaccine doses for the entire U.K. population in six months.
CGTC said the new Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Innovation Centre will complement the VMIC, and have the wherewithal on its own to produce vaccine doses for the country's entire population.
With the Braintree site under construction, the U.K. government has simultaneously invested an additional 38 million pounds to create a "rapid deployment facility" slated to open up later this summer. The facility will "support efforts to ensure a successful vaccine is widely available to the public as soon as possible," the CGTC said.
"Today's announcement is another important milestone for us," Kate Bingham, chair of the U.K.'s Vaccines Taskforce, said in the July 23 statement from CGTC.
"In order to vaccinate our high-risk populations at the earliest opportunity, the government has agreed to proactively manufacture vaccines now, so we have millions of doses of vaccine ready if they are shown to be safe and effective," Bingham added. "The acquisition of this state-of-the-art manufacturing center will not only help us with this, but also ensures we are well-placed as a country to be able to cope with any pandemics or health crises in the future."
As the U.S. and U.K. shore up vaccine supplies, they've been met with concerns that these moves will make access to vaccines harder for less wealthy or connected countries. Drug companies have also faced pushback for at least appearing to favor certain countries; Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi, was recently hot water after he said the U.S. would, upon regulatory approval, be first to receive the company's coronavirus vaccine because the country provided early funding.
Last month, AstraZeneca committed to supply one billion doses of its experimental coronavirus vaccine to countries outside the U.S. and the U.K.