Tackling disease: new vaccines innovation centre launch

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Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Over 1.8 billion people died from tuberculosis and malaria in 2016.

This alarming statistic highlights the need for better, faster and more cost effective vaccines.

With this in mind, Innovate UK is launching a new vaccines manufacturing innovation centre. The first dedicated centre to vaccines manufacturing in the UK, this development could help prevent epidemics around the world and save lives.

Vaccination against life-threatening diseases

Set to open in 2022 in Oxford, the centre aims to develop vaccines against devastating diseases around the world such as Ebola and Lassa fever. Faster development and implementation of vaccines could help to halt the spread of these serious diseases around the world and to the UK.

Currently, there is no approved vaccine for Ebola. The latest outbreak of the disease has claimed the lives of 553 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since August 2018. Nor is there a licenced vaccine for Lassa fever. Since the beginning of 2019, there have been 327 cases and 72 deaths in Nigeria. 

Fifty years on from the discovery of the measles vaccine, there are still new, life-threatening diseases to tackle. This is where the new centre comes in.

What will the centre do?

The centre will develop, produce and apply new vaccines against a wide range of outbreak pathogens to help prevent epidemics and find new forms of preventative and therapeutic medicines. These new vaccines will then be placed into clinical trials.

The aim is to produce high quality vaccines and medicines using mammalian cell culture. As well as producing actual medicines, the centre will also act as an authority on clinical trial design and biomanufacturing regulations. Delivering training in GMP-level vaccines is another way the centre plans to contribute to the community.   

The centre will provide the infrastructure required to develop vaccine manufacturing processes (TRL5-9+) at a much larger scale, building on the existing Medical Research Council and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council funded work at TRL 2-4.

In addition to vaccines, the centre will also develop personalised gene therapy and cancer therapy products.

A closer look at Ebola

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some of the epidemics currently categorised as at emergency level include cholera, Ebola, influenza, meningitis and yellow fever. 

The Ebola virus has generated a lot of press due to the devastating effects it has had on vulnerable communities. So far, over 80,000 people have been vaccinated against the virus and over 400 have received treatment. However, there is still an urgent need for support and funding for research and care to prevent Ebola spreading into more turbulent areas.

Currently, the average fatality rate is around 50% and there is no licensed treatment. However, vaccines and drug treatments are under development, which will hopefully be boosted by the launch of this centre.

The vaccine manufacturing centre: research and development

The Jenner Institute (a partnership between the University of Oxford and the Pirbright Institute) is taking the lead in bringing together researchers, academics and the pharmaceutical industry to provide vaccines for vulnerable communities.

Other key players are the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Imperial College London who are contributing their academic expertise. LSHTM has been involved in the development of a new generation of low-cost bacterial vaccines produced in E coli cells and are well positioned to support the vaccines centre.

The industrial strategy challenge fund

The centre is being funded by Innovate UK as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The aim of the fund is to accelerate research and development in order to position the UK as a leader in the life science industry.

£66 million is being injected into the project to create skilled jobs, support the NHS as a research leader and develop new innovations in health tech. By bringing research and business together, the scheme strives to tackle the social and industrial issues of today and tomorrow.

In addition to tackling major health issues in the UK and beyond, the fund will also bolster sustainable, economic growth.

Funding the life science industry

The launch of the centre would be impossible without the funding and support of partners, stakeholders, research groups and universities.

Funding of £10 million is being provided by outside partners, including commercial stakeholders.

The primary contributor to the centre is Innovate UK, as part of the Challenge Fund. Innovate UK are part of UK Research and Innovation, the government body set up to champion industrial growth in the UK.

If you’re interested in discovering additional projects boosting innovation in the UK, subscribe to the Innovate UK YouTube channel for more success stories on sustainable growth.