UK vaccine development center sales plans criticized by scientists | Vaccines and vaccination
Ministers were urged to keep a facility capable of quickly creating and testing new vaccines, amid concerns over the sale of a leading center originally designed to prepare Britain for future pandemics.
Some senior medical figures have privately expressed concerns that government officials are reviewing bids for the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Center (VMIC) near Oxford, which has benefited from millions of dollars in public funding over the course of of its development.
John Bell, who has held a series of influential roles in the government’s response to Covid-19, said the centre’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities could be better placed in the hands of a large pharmaceutical company. However, he added that a facility examining innovation and vaccine trials – the original vision of VMIC – should be maintained.
“Here is the worry,” he said. “Let’s say we get a big [pharmaceutical company] come and start making routine vaccines of one kind or another. Everything is fine. But the point of it all was to allow more innovation, so that we actually have the new vaccines when you need them. The AstraZeneca vaccine was born out of this kind of thinking.
“The real risk is that we’re going to lose the ability to do this early phase stuff that actually told us you can use adenovirus to make some really good vaccines. There is a whole host of new vaccine platforms at very early stages of development that will need to be evaluated in what was the original vision of VMIC. If you lose this, you really lose a crucial part of the puzzle. You can imagine, there is a risk of this being rigged. I think that would be a real problem.
Bell’s intervention echoes that of Clive Dix, the former head of the government’s vaccine task force, who said in a Observer interview in November that he had seen no evidence that his plans to prepare the country for future Covid variants were being factored in. He also said he believed the UK was no longer “at the forefront” in tackling the pandemic.
Kate Bingham, the original chairperson of the vaccine working group, also said the “waters are closed” the innovative approach taken when the pandemic arrived.
Several companies have reportedly submitted bids for the VMIC. Its creation was announced by the government in 2018 to develop vaccines in the UK and deal with future pandemics. Insiders said plans were changed when Covid hit and its manufacturing capabilities became the priority. It was scheduled to open in 2023, but its opening has been moved forward to next year.
Some insiders have said that placing VMIC in the hands of a large pharmaceutical maker is the best use for the facility. However, Bell said more time should be spent examining how a vaccine innovation center might be kept. “It would be a really interesting idea and I don’t know if they’ve given it much thought,” he said.
“It is not beyond human mind for the government to sell the facility on a large scale, then go back and say: we will pursue the original idea of small-scale innovation. ladder. We’re just going to put it back in place, as it was originally planned, and take 18 months to build it. I think that would be the best solution, frankly.
The government said: ‘We are working closely with VMIC, which is a private company, and others to ensure the UK retains our strong national vaccine manufacturing capacity to help build resilience in the UK against Covid-19 and other future health emergencies. The government has invested more than £ 380million to secure and increase the UK’s manufacturing capacity so that it can respond to the impact of Covid-19, as well as any future pandemic. “