We spoke with Dr Matthew Duchars, CEO of the UK’s premier Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Center (VMIC), about their work not only to provide a comprehensive response to COVID-19, but as a hub for excellence advancing the vaccine industry globally. climb
Tell us about the pioneering vaccine development and manufacturing center itself as part of the UK’s science infrastructure and strategic goals, and how you came to get involved.
“When I heard about VMIC I was very excited about it because I think it filled what was missing in the UK. In the past, the UK has been successful in developing and discovering vaccines and pioneering new technologies, but has failed to translate them into commercial manufacturing processes in the UK afterwards – this has happened. historically spent abroad. Part of VMIC’s goal is to try and bring that center of gravity back to the UK, by encouraging people to come and work with us, whether they are from the UK or from all over the world. .
Within VMIC there is a support structure to help with early stage product development during this difficult time when you have discovered a potential vaccine and are trying to move it to the clinic and to a commercial product. There are many potholes you can fall into, and VMIC’s goal is to guide, orient and help people who have never done it before to avoid these potholes so that they don’t make the same mistakes others have made in the past.
Among the many goals of VMIC are:
- To provide rapid and economical manufacture of vaccines, getting them quickly to the clinic.
- To help point people in the right direction so that as they develop vaccines and products, they think about how to do it in a way that will be scalable, economical and commercial.
- Be a reliable manufacturer for people to take the process from discovery to licensed product.
- Provide experience, knowledge and technical capabilities on which our university, research or industrial partners can rely to develop their product.
- And finally, the last goal, which became very relevant last year, was to provide a level of emergency response capability so that in the event of an outbreak, epidemic or accidental release of an agent biological, we can make vaccines quickly and use it to protect and save lives, not just for the UK, but for people around the world. “
This brings us to the COVID-19 pandemic and your role in it. Due to this and the threat of future pandemics, your project received £ 93million from the UK government in 2020 to expand vaccine production capacities and speed up the development timeline so that the VMIC installation can be speeded up d ‘a year. What did this mean for VMIC?
“Yes, as we started to build the facility, COVID-19 hit, and everyone in the world was caught off guard. On the one hand, he was happy that the UK had already started to think about the need for a facility like VMIC, but on the other hand, unfortunately, the timing was not quite right. It became clear that we needed to start thinking about modifying and speeding up the design. As a result, we have increased the capacity of the facilities by 20: instead of being able to manufacture two to three million doses in three months, which we initially planned for small epidemics and epidemics, we increased to a facility that could produce 70 million doses, actually one dose for everyone in the country, over a six-month period. In addition, we have compressed the construction schedule, bringing it forward months ahead of the scheduled date to make the facility operational in 2022, with access to some parts in 2021. ”
How important are partnerships and collaboration to VMIC in terms of UK manufacturing capacity and vaccine development, especially during a crisis and with extremely ambitious deadlines to meet?
“We had to answer the question: how are we making a vaccine this year when the facility, even with the acceleration, was still not going to be operationally ready until early 2022? Therefore, we came up with the concept of Virtual VMIC, which is a rapidly deployable manufacturing capability. Anyway, we were buying all the equipment to get into VMIC, so we decided to buy it earlier and loan it out to coworkers who have a facility where they could install and manufacture it this year. Oxford Biomedica, quite fortuitously, had just built a facility and had an empty space, so we came to an agreement with them and provided the necessary equipment to set up their clean rooms. This allowed us to grow and bring manufacturing online in 2020 rather than having to wait. By October, the equipment had been installed and qualified, and had passed an inspection with the MHRA, and manufacturing could start in the last quarter of 2020. It really helped us as a country to be ahead in terms of getting a large number of doses made and distributed to people.
Given that the VMIC will be the first of its kind in the country, what will this mean for the UK once fully built and operational in 2022 and beyond?
“The main objective of the VMIC was not to be a facility intended solely to provide a response to the pandemic. Yes, we will be set up to do it. But the real goal is to contribute to the development of vaccines and vaccine processes for the sector in general. Therefore, when we open the doors, it will be about focusing on helping the growth of the sector, helping to develop innovative ways to manufacture vaccines, to make them more economical, more efficient and capable of making them. produce faster, helping this industry to really grow and establish itself, not just in the UK but around the world.
Although based in the UK I see us as a global organization, we are here to help develop vaccines for everyone, on every continent. The point is, we have a center of expertise and excellence to help move the industry forward. The fact that this expertise resides in the UK helps attract people to the UK, but it’s not just an explicit UK business.
It is important to realize that VMIC is not a commercial organization, but a non-profit company, and we are not here to make as much money as possible, a COVID-19 vaccine for example, but to help others to be successful. It’s at the heart of what we try to do, we’re here to help research teams and business ventures be successful. And this success is everyone’s success because it means that we all receive vaccines, helping to protect and save lives. “
Attention: This is a commercial profile