In November 2023 the UK’s Minister for Health and Secondary Care, Will Quince, announced at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) science, technology, and global health reception that “more than £30 million” will be invested in 4 new “vaccine manufacturing research hubs” across the UK Vaccine Network. The hubs are led by Imperial College London, University College London, the University of Oxford, and the University of Sheffield and will involve experts from “across Africa, Asia, and Latin America” according to the UKRI.
“Together, they will use the lessons from the global rollout of COVID vaccines to improve the process of manufacture and distribution in LMICs.”
Partnerships against pandemics
Minister Quince is “proud” to build on partnerships between British universities and “global vaccine developments”. Included in the plans is the creation of a “dedicated UK-South-East Asia Vaccine manufacturing Hub”.
“If another pandemic strikes, life-saving vaccines will be more readily available across south-east Asia and the world.”
Furthermore, Minister Quince commented that the UK is “working closely” with “our friends in the Secretariat” to develop the ASEAN-UK Health Security Partnership.
“This will bring the full force of our expertise to bear in tackling shared global health challenges.”
The speech concluded with the reflection that these collaborations will “build the resilient and inclusive health systems” needed to “save lives across the world”.
“Your Excellency, the measures we’re announcing today will help our countries tackle future pandemics, boost research into vaccines, and reduce deaths from infectious diseases.”
UKRI states that the hubs have received a “share” of £33 million in UK aid funding from the Department of Health and Social Care, with a further £1.5 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Who are the hubs?
Imperial College London: Future manufacturing vaccine hub: accelerating the manufacture and deployment of cost-effective vaccines
Led by Imperial’s Professor Robin Shattock, this hub draws on the expertise of three other UK universities, two UK institutes, and eight companies to “increase immunisation coverage” and improve outbreak responses through “rapid and cost-effective manufacturing and deployment”. Initial projects will take place in Vietnam, Bangladesh, and South Africa, before expansion to other countries.
Imperial suggests that “effective distribution of vaccines” is “hampered” in rural regions of low- and middle-income nations by the “costs associated with their production and purification”, and cold storage requirements. Furthermore, an “additional challenge” is the demand for responses to “emerging threats” and AMR pathogens. To tackle these challenges the team will aim to “disrupt” vaccine production with “reliable technologies” that can be adopted “cost-effectively, at scale, and in compliance with regulatory requirements”.
“They will create heat-stable vaccine formulations that minimise the need for low-temperature storage, and further develop four existing vaccine platforms, overcoming challenges including scalability, cost, and stability.”
Professor Shattock is enthusiastic about the team’s ambition.
“We are looking to exploit the next wave of biotechnology innovation to rapidly respond to emerging outbreaks and empower countries most at risk of infections to meet their local vaccine needs.”
Imperial College London: Chanjo: catalysing the African vaccine manufacturing ecosystem
This hub is led by Professor Faith Osier, and is an “African-led, academic-industry partnership” seeking to “catalyse the local ‘ecosystem’ necessary for establishing vaccine manufacturing in Kenya and Ghana”. Initial efforts will centre on an experimental malaria vaccine, comparing the “feasibility, scalability, cost-competitiveness, long-term economic viability, and social attitudes” across the mRNA and egg-based platforms. Both are relevant for both seasonal outbreaks and pandemic preparedness.
Professor Osier commented that the need for local capacity is “urgent”, and she is “really excited” about the programme.
“It leverages African scientists in the diaspora and on the continent, international collaborators, industry partners, business entrepreneurs, philanthropists, regulators, and policymakers.”
The hub is also “female-led and gender-balanced” with a “transdisciplinary” team.
“We draw on and enrich the UK’s expertise in vaccine bio-manufacturing, business entrepreneurship and innovation. By bringing together high- and low-income country partners for knowledge exchange and technology transfer, we can accelerate global access to vaccinations and treatments.”
University College London and University of Oxford: Vaccines manufacturing hub for LMICs (Vax-Hub-Global)
Led by Professor Martina Micheletti and Dr Catherine Green, this hub’s vision is to deliver flexible, easily transferable multi-product platforms and simplified engineering solutions to enable the development of low cost, effective, and globally deployable vaccines to LMICs. The Vax-Hub states that its “mission” is to place the UK at the centre of “integrated discovery through to bioprocess manufacture of next-generation vaccines”.
The University of Sheffield: UK-south-east Asia-vaccine manufacturing research hub
This hub is led by Professor Tuck Seng Wong and will establish a diversified, robust, sustainable, and equitable vaccine manufacturing ecosystem. The University states that the vaccines will target diseases like dengue, tuberculosis, and rabies, with a focus on protein, mRNA, and viral vector platforms. The hub is a consortium of four UK universities and eleven partners in South-East Asia and furthers an existing relationship between the University of Sheffield and Chulalongkorn University, Thailand.
How do you think these hubs will establish secure and sustainable vaccine partnerships to promote more equitable access to vaccines in the future? For more on vaccine relationships don’t miss out on the Congress in Santa Clara this month. If you can’t make it, why not subscribe for more insights?