Since 2019 Dr Matthew Duchars has been the CEO of the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC).VMIC is a not for profit researchcompany within the UK national scientific infrastructure providing strategic vaccine development and an extensive manufacturing capability. The Centre’s highly advanced facility is currently being built and will cover a 7,000m2 footprint located on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire. The main funding comes through a £65 million grant from UK Research and Innovation, as part of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The company is supported by its three founding members: University of Oxford, Imperial College and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, each with extensive experience in development and clinical evaluation of novel vaccines. VMIC UK will receive in-kind industry funding from Janssen, part of Johnson and Johnson, Merck and GE Healthcare.

To support Covid-19 efforts Dr Duchars andUK Research and Innovation have been working with central Government to fast track the build of the UK’s first strategic vaccine development and manufacturing capability. Ground works began on the site in early April and it is expected  to be ready for early access for the complex fit-out, in late July/early August, and to be operational in 2021.

This reporter had a conversation with Dr Duchars who explained that originally the concept was that VMIC would take emergency vaccine candidates and scale them up for production of 2-3million doses in 3 months; since Covid-19 VMIC has been in discussions with governmentto identify how to expand the emergency response to 70million doses, enough for the UK population, enabling vaccine manufacturing to happen under one roof for future emergency responses.For now, VMIC is advising the Jenner Institute on how to scale-up the manufacture of their current vaccine candidate and this involves pooling resources from a range of specialist companies in the UK with manufacturing capabilities.Duchars says VMIC expertise will take a vaccine candidate from start to finish covering everything from production of cell banks, through to filling of the final vaccine. This includes process and lab scale development,analytical development, scale-up and full-scale production. Ducharsplans touse a vendor managed supply chain for manufacture of vaccine in an emergency, whereby the necessary components and the known raw materials, are held in pre-arranged quantities that can be immediately drawn down.

VMIC is working with The BioIndustry Association (BIA) CoViD19 Taskforce that was announced last week by Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for Business-Energy&Industry;this Taskforce reports directly to Patrick Valance, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the government. The Taskforce are currently helping to progress two vaccine candidates, being developed by Imperial College London and The Jenner Institute of Oxford University.These two vaccine candidates use two very different approaches to create immunity. The first candidate is the self-amplifying RNA vaccine from Imperial College that Professor Robin Shattock has been developing since early February.This candidateshows vaccinated animals are able to produce neutralising antibodies against the coronavirus, further test will determine if humans give the same response. The second Adenovirus candidate is from the Jenner Institute and the clinical trial began this week: ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is made usinga virus vector (ChAdOx1), which is a weakened version of a naturally occurring virus (adenovirus) that causes infections in chimpanzees.The virus has been genetically changed so that it is impossible for it to grow in humans.Genetic material has been added to the ChAdOx1 construct, that is used to make proteins from the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) called Spike glycoprotein (S). This protein is usually found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 and plays an essential role in the infection pathway of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus uses its spike protein to bind to ACE2 receptors on human cells to gain entry to the cells and cause an infection.By vaccinating with ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, Jenner are hoping to make the body recognise and develop an immune response to the Spike protein that will help stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering human cells and therefore prevent infection.

As soon as the VMIC facility is operational Duchars will develop new manufacturing processes in collaboration with industrial, academic users and SMEs.The VMIC facility has been designed so that up to 4 vaccines could be developed simultaneously with strict barriers between groups to ensure commercial sensitivities are protected.The facility’s global collaborations will come through networking and Duchars welcomes collaboration with overseas partners or groups.

Matthew Duchars is a distinguished Microbiologist with 32 years of experience in vaccines, pharmaceuticals, strategic direction and technical leadership. Duchars’ short-term priority is “To scale a Covid-19 vaccine to a point for distribution in UK and overseas” and the long-term priority “It is critically important to have a strategic capability that strengthens vaccines capabilities for the benefit of the international health community”

Harwell Campus home is to 6,000 people across 225 organisations, with 30 universities represented onsite.  As a pillar organisation with the Harwell HealthTec Cluster of 58 organisations, collectively employing 1,250 people; VMIC will be co-located with the UK’s open access National Laboratories, including the Diamond Light Source/UK’s Synchotron, The Rosalind Franklin Life Science Institute and innovative start-ups/ SMEs through to multinationals working in the global and UK Life Sciences sector. Research and commercial work on the multi-disciplinary Campus spans everything from drug discovery, including fragment screening, AI-enhanced drug design, vaccines, vectors and advanced medicines, through to environmental impacts on human health, biomaterials and ageing. This work is underpinned by globally unique multi-modal imaging expertise and capabilities in structural biology, genomics, big data analytics, super-computing, and satellite enabled digital connectivity. Collaboration between researchers, industry, academics, and government teams working across this broad spectrum of activity is at the heart of the Campus.

Everyone hopes for a safe and efficacious vaccine that passes all regulatory hurdles in the shortest time.