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UK sells off its new vaccine manufacturing centre

Image: Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre

US company plans to invest up to £120 million to complete construction of Oxfordshire facility

The UK’s Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre⁠ in Harwell has been sold to the US pharmaceutical giant Catalent.

The VMIC is yet to become fully operational, even though its construction was fast-tracked over the past couple of years in the hope that it would contribute to making Covid-19 vaccines domestically.

Plans to sell it off have been controversial, given that many academics hoped it would fill a gap in the national capacity to manufacture vaccines. But the sale has been welcomed by the bioscience industry.

The VMIC has been granted almost £215 million in government funding, and Catalent said it planned to invest up to a further $160m (£120m) to complete construction of the facility and equip it with the capabilities for the development and manufacture of biologic therapies and vaccines, including mRNA and proteins.

The firm expects to employ more than 400 people and support both public and private organisations seeking to develop and manufacture biotherapeutics. It is unclear how much Catalent paid for the centre.

Academic collaboration

The VMIC was founded in 2018—as a private company limited by guarantee, without share capital—by the University of Oxford, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Imperial College London, with funding from the UK government through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

It has said that it also had “strong industry support from world-leading vaccine experts Johnson and Johnson, MSD and Cytiva”.

Catalent’s biotherapeutics president Mike Riley said the company’s priority was to complete construction “as soon as possible to be able to commence customer programmes in 2022”.

“We will then integrate its capabilities within our existing network of biologics facilities across Europe to offer a flexible range of manufacturing, technology and development solutions for the pipeline of thousands of development programmes currently underway.”

He added that the acquisition “allows Catalent to collaborate with the rich academic and biomedical science community centred around Oxford, with its world-class talent, and will result in a facility that provides opportunities to transform innovation into real treatments for patients across the UK, Europe and beyond”.

‘Strengthening UK capability’

Robin Shattock, chair of the VMIC’s board of directors, said the deal would ensure the site “will stay true to the original purpose of strengthening the UK’s vaccine manufacturing capability by bringing innovation to the sector and getting more vaccines to the clinic”.

“Catalent has the resources to ensure this facility can become operational and start contributing to the UK’s and Europe’s vaccines landscape at pace.”

Steve Bates, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association and a former member of the government’s Vaccine Taskforce, welcomed the purchase. He said that Catalent had a “track record of, and ability to, invest further in the site and team for years to come”.

“Through this process, a significant US manufacturer has been brought into the UK bioprocessing ecosystem.

“Significant additional private and public sector vaccine manufacturing capability is coming online in the next few years in the UK. The UK already has more capability than was identified at the start of the pandemic in early 2020, which can support future global pandemic responses and the creation of other innovative therapies and medicines for the benefit of patients.”

Research Professional News has approached the UK government and Catalent for comment.