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23 July, 2020 - 12:44 By Tony Quested

£100m injected to create Essex COVID vaccine hothouse

Alok Sharma, Crown copyright

Essex is to host a new mass production hothouse to manufacture millions of doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine following an additional £100 million cash investment from the UK government.

Braintree will be the brains trust of the new facility which is also designed to scale gene therapy technology.

The Government has also contributed a further £4.7m for new training facilities and an online learning platform to boost vaccine as well as cell and gene therapy skills. The facility is also designed to cover eventualities arising from future pandemics.

The investment will fund a state-of-the-art Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Innovation Centre to accelerate mass production of a COVID-19 vaccine in the UK. 

Due to open in December 2021, the centre will have the capacity to produce millions of doses each month ensuring the UK has the capabilities to manufacture vaccines, including for emerging diseases, far into the future.

The Government initiative will upgrade an existing facility to create a fully-licensed manufacturing centre. Doing so will increase the UK’s ability to respond to diseases like coronavirus and to prepare for potential future pandemics while creating new, high-skilled jobs to fuel the UK’s economic recovery.

The new centre will complement the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC), which is currently under construction in Oxfordshire thanks to a separate £93m investment from the Government. Once complete next year, the facility will have the capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to serve the entire UK population at scale.

While the centre is under construction, the Government has invested an additional £38m to establish a rapid deployment facility, opening later this summer, that will support efforts to ensure a successful vaccine is widely available to the public as soon as possible.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “We are taking all necessary steps to ensure we can vaccinate the public as soon as a successful COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.

“This new Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Innovation Centre, alongside crucial investment in skills, will support our efforts to rapidly produce millions of doses of a coronavirus vaccine while ensuring the UK can respond quickly to potential future pandemics.”

Employment in the cell and gene therapy sector is predicted to reach over 6,000 jobs by 2024, with over 3,000 in manufacturing and bioprocessing.

The UK is at the forefront of international efforts to research and develop a COVID-19 vaccine and has provided £131 million funding to University of Oxford and Imperial College London to accelerate their work on two vaccine candidates.

This latest initiative follows news that the Government secured early access to 90 million vaccine doses from the BioNTech/Pfizer alliance and Valneva as part of its strategy to build a portfolio of promising new vaccines to protect the UK from COVID-19.

Also, treatments containing COVID-19-neutralising antibodies have been secured from Cambridge Big Biotech leader AstraZeneca to protect those who cannot receive vaccines. 

AstraZeneca is also working with Oxford University and global players on a globally gamechanging vaccine trial and production programme. As we reported earlier this week, initial trials of the AZ-Oxford vaccine have proved highly encouraging.

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