Prime Minister Boris Johnson has visited the UK’s first dedicated strategic vaccine development and manufacturing facility, based at science and technology-based Harwell Campus near Oxford.

PES Media report that the 7,400 square metre Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) will be a not-for-profit organisation, and will provide accelerated vaccine development in the UK, providing national emergency response for future pandemics.

Mr Johnson met with scientists and engineers working at the forefront of the national response to the coronavirus pandemic, who are advising on the scaling up of manufacturing for viable COVID-19 vaccines.

The teams are also establishing a rapid deployment centre, known as ‘Virtual VMIC’ to increase the supply of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine candidate, which is currently undergoing clinical trials.

The Prime Minister also met with design and construction teams fast-tracking the development of the facility and who are working in an unprecedented effort to bring the high-tech centre online by Q2 of 2021, a year ahead of schedule.

The VMIC has taken the unusual approach of being constructed while planning permission work was going on behind the scenes. Usually, the planning approval and construction of a project of such a scale would take several years, with construction starting only when planning permission had been approved.

Due to the coronavirus crisis and the national importance of the VMIC, the application process had been fast-tracked by the Vale of White Horse District Council so that work could begin before official permission was granted.

Dr Matthew Duchars, chief executive officer of the VMIC said: “This decision by the council gained us three critical months in our race to build a pandemic capable vaccine manufacturing facility, during which time we were able to go from a grass-covered site to completion of the superstructure.”

VMIC was established by the University of Oxford, Imperial College and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and includes support from partners, MSD, Johnson and Johnson and Cytiva, formerly known as GE Healthcare.

Funding for the centre came from a £56 million grant from UK Research and Innovation, part of the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and received a further £93 million from the government in 2020 to expand the capabilities of the facility and to fast track the build.

It was formally announced in August 2019 that Harwell was the chosen site for VMIC, and the project teams were finalising the designs by the time the pandemic struck at the beginning of 2020.

Work analysing the coronavirus, known as structural biology interrogation, was moved from China to Harwell Campus as the UK went into lockdown, and it was soon realised the VMIC was to play a much larger role than had been previously anticipated.

VMIC will be capable of producing 70 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in four to six months. It will be home to up to 6,000 people working across 225 organisations, and representation for 30 universities.

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