In August 2023 the UKHSA announced the opening of its “world-leading” Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre (VDEC) in the science and defence technology campus Porton Down. The VDEC is expected to work on life-saving new vaccines for the UK and rest of the world. The centre was established to fulfil a “major part” of the UKHSA’s 3-year strategy. It will incorporate 200 leading scientists, working on up to 100 projects.  

“The Centre’s work is conducted throughout the vaccine lifecycle, from early in the vaccine product design through to evaluating vaccine effectiveness, which continues when new variants arise.”  
Targeting pathogens 

UKHSA states that the research conducted at the VDEC will specifically target pathogens for which a vaccine does not exist, is not regulated in the UK, or could be improved. These include avian influenza, mpox, or hantavirus.  

A given example is already in action; VDEC teams are running Phase I clinical trials for a vaccine candidate against Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, which is spread by the bite of an infected tick and is unfortunately fatal in around 30% of cases. More common infections like tuberculosis and Clostridium difficile are being targeted as well.  

From COVID-19 to the future 

VDEC will continue working on capabilities that were developed during the COVID-19 pandemic to test emerging vaccines against new variants. However, it will “expand its remit” to further deadly pathogens and diseases. With a unique set of capabilities and high standards, the output of the centre is expected to be “trusted worldwide”.  

Professor Dame Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, commented that the centre is a “hugely exciting step-change” for the UK vaccine scene, comprising a “vital component of UKHSA’s critical work highlighted in our 3-year strategy”.  

“This essential work will lead the way over the coming years in our fight against potentially deadly pathogens, further enhancing the UK’s credentials as a global science superpower.”  

Steve Barclay, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, believes that the centre “cements the UK’s global position spearheading pandemic preparedness, vaccine development, and scientific discovery”.  

“Hundreds of the world’s leading scientists are already in the centre working on vaccines against potential global health threats to protect the UK and save lives across the world. This state-of-the-art complex will also help us deliver on our commitment to produce new vaccines within 100 days of a new threat being identified.”  
100 Days Mission 

The work done at VDEC will also comprise a key part of the UK’s contribution to the globally-endorsed 100 Days Mission, which aims to deploy an effective vaccine within 100 days of identifying a new threat with pandemic potential. On 7th August UKHSA published a report that suggests that the UK is “making important progress” in 6 key areas, including vaccine research, development, and manufacturing. This might seem at odds with a warning from MPs about the vaccine situation in the UK last month.  

Professor Isabel Oliver is UKHSA’s Chief Scientific Officer and described the 100 Days Mission as an “important initiative” that VDEC will support.  

“I am proud that the UK has embraced this mission and is leading globally in identifying and tackling ongoing and emerging health threats.”  

We look forward to hearing more from our excellent speakers, representing UKHSA at the World Vaccine Congress in Barcelona in October. Join us there by getting tickets here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more vaccine news!