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3 January, 2018 - 11:29 By Tony Quested

Cambridge scientists in £10m vaccine venture to fight killer diseases

Scientists at Cambridge and Cranfield universities are at the heart of a multimillion pound UK enterprise to prevent the global spread of new diseases such as Ebola and Zika.

They have rallied round Imperial College London to set up a ground-breaking new virtual research hub designed to help halt future deadly outbreaks. The landmark project will help to increase vaccine coverage across the globe and improve the response to epidemics through the rapid deployment of life-saving jabs.

Nearly one in five infants across the world - 19.5 million children - currently have no access to basic vaccines. Almost a third of deaths among children under five could be prevented through the use of vaccines.

The effective distribution of vaccines is hampered in rural areas of low and middle income nations by the costs associated with their production and purification, and the need for them to be stored at temperatures of between two and eight degrees Celsius.

An additional challenge is the need to respond rapidly to emerging threats such as the Ebola and Zika viruses.

The new hub will look to address two major challenges facing attempts to create future vaccine manufacturing systems:-

  • How to design a production system that can produce tens of thousands of new doses within weeks of a new threat being identified
  • How to improve current manufacturing processes and change the way vaccines are manufactured, stabilised and stored so that existing and new diseases can be prevented effectively, and costs reduced

Funding of £9,947,570 over 40 months has been allocated to the Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub.

The virtual hub is led by Imperial College London and involves the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge and Nottingham, Cranfield University, the Clinical Biotechnology Centre (CBC) as part of NHS Blood and Transplant, UK National Biologics Manufacturing Centre, CPI and National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC).

The hub will also partner with GSK Vaccines Institute for Global Health. It will collaborate with the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturing Network and African Vaccine Manufacturers Initiative to maximise dissemination of knowledge.

Manufacturing research projects will be carried out with the following partners: Hilleman Laboratories, India; the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI); Dalian Hissen BioPharm Co., Ltd, China; Incepta, Bangladesh; and VABIOTECH, Vietnam.

EPSRC’s chief executive, Professor Philip Nelson, said: “Vaccines and their availability can mean the difference between life and death for millions of people across the globe.

“Many of these deaths, whether they are a result of polio, diphtheria or measles, could be prevented through immunisation, and research at the Hub will look to overcome barriers currently blocking progress in this field.

“At the same time, this investment will also support the researchers as they strive to develop ways to respond rapidly and efficiently to threats such as Ebola and Zika and save many lives in the future.”

Approaches that will be explored by researchers at the hub include the development of synthetic RNA vaccines which can be rapidly manufactured; the rapid production of yeast and bacterially-expressed particles that mimic components of pathogenic viruses and bacteria; and protein stabilisation to preserve vaccines at temperatures of up to 100 degrees Celsius, avoiding the need for refrigerated distribution and storage.

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: St Mary's Hospital - Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

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