Britain will be able to vaccinate the entire nation against dangerous new Covid strains within four months after a £158m super-factory opens later this year, The Telegraph can disclose.
Dr Matthew Duchars, chief executive of the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC), revealed the Oxfordshire facility will be capable of producing 70m doses of an emergency vaccine manufactured entirely on British soil.
The news comes amid fears that a new Covid strain from Brazil may prove resistant to current vaccines. All travel corridors into the UK were scrapped this week to prevent new variants entering the country.
“We’ll be able to make 70 million doses within a four to five month period, enough for everyone in the country, when we open late this year,” Dr Duchars told The Telegraph.
“New Covid variants are absolutely part of the thinking. We probably will need to make seasonal vaccine variants because there may well be mutations in the virus, as well as vaccines for other diseases. You never know what’s coming next.”
Currently under construction at the Harwell Science & Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, the VMIC was first conceived in 2018 and originally planned to open in 2022. When the Covid pandemic struck, the UK government pumped a further £131 million into the not-for-profit company to bring the project forward by a year.
The centre is already helping to manufacture the Oxford vaccine by lending expertise and giant bioreactors to the AstraZeneca team and its partners.
This week Sir Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals research and development at AstraZeneca, told MPs that the UK’s lack of manufacturing capacity had been a major stumbling block in the development of the Oxford vaccine, and urged ministers to “urgently address” the issue.
Much of the Pfizer and Oxford vaccine doses currently being rolled out in the UK are made in factories in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Dr Duchars said the VMIC would be equipped to produce different types of vaccines including MRNA varieties like the Pfizer jab and adenovirus-based technology like the Oxford AstraZeneca jab.
“Covid came a year early for us, unfortunately,” he said.
“But when we open we’ll have a sovereign capability to manufacture different types of vaccines and still be able to make a large number of doses.
“It is a challenge. But that’s what we’re shooting for. If you don’t set yourself a tough target, then there’s no chance you can reach it.”
He added how the company and its new super-factory could also be used to help developers of numerous other vaccines – not just those targeting Covid-19 – from private and public organisations, whether academic institutions or foundations or private laboratories.
Explaining how he believes it is “absolutely remarkable” the vaccine has been developed so quickly, he said: “We may not have a facility that’s built and ready to go. But we do have people who understand how to develop and manufacture vaccines.
“So, we’ve essentially lent them out to organisations to help them with the scale up and manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccine.”
“And we’ve been working with lots of those different organisations to help really accelerate and speed up and provide surety and expertise around how to get this vaccine made quickly.”
He said the new centre is “technology agnostic”, meaning it can be adapted to different methods for different types of vaccine and viruses.
“What we didn’t want to do was make a facility that would be great for making the AstraZeneca vaccine, for example, but then next year a different MERS [Middle East Respiratory Syndrome] or SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] comes along.” he added.
“That’s a different type of platform and a different vaccine. So we’ve got to have a flexible facility that is able to make in an emergency a large amount of doses from different types of processes.”