Coronavirus booster vaccines to be offered to over 50s in Autumn

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The Government has granted a £10.65million boost to launch a “cutting edge” vaccine site that could help rapidly develop vaccines against future health emergencies like the Covid-19 pandemic. The UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, which was set up in April 2020 to deliver coronavirus vaccinations as quickly as possible, pledge this support to launch an RNA vaccine innovation centre in Darlington. mRNA technology was used by a number of companies, including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, and helped innoculate millions globally. The centre, launched by CPI, would advance technology currently under development for treating various cancers, flu vaccines and personalised medicines, including gene therapy.

The Government believes CPI’s RNA Centre of Excellence has the potential to make “homegrown breakthroughs in the fight against a number of diseases”, and would produce RNA material for clinical trials which will be crucial to future vaccine development.

This centre is the only one in the UK currently able to develop and manufacture messenger and self-amplifying RNA vaccines and therapies with the capability to manufacture millions of doses of a vaccine if required for a future healthcare emergency.

CPI’s new site will provide state-of-the-art equipment and world-leading expertise to support industry with the testing, scale-up and clinical production of RNA technologies, which the Government hopes will promote the UK as “an attractive destination for further investment.”

Minister for Science and Investment Security Nusrat Ghani, who was appointed yesterday, said: “The UK’s exceptional capabilities in Life Sciences were showcased on the world stage when we became the first nation globally to approve a working Covid-19 vaccine during the pandemic.

“We are now committed to boosting these capabilities even further, ensuring we are thoroughly prepared for future health emergencies and remaining at the forefront of the development of new therapies.

“This is why we are making this significant investment in CPI’s brilliant RNA facility in Darlington, a site with the potential to make enormous homegrown breakthroughs in the fight against disease.”

This centre is set to act as a crucial part of the UK commitment to future pandemic preparedness, particularly as the Government will retain priority access to the facility for up to a decade.

This will allow vaccine developers to utilise the site as required to provide additional manufacturing capacity in the event of a future health emergency or pandemic.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “CPI is a fantastic example of a local organisation at the cutting-edge of biosciences and its new Centre of Excellence will be another string to the bow of the growing cluster on Darlington’s Central Park and our world-leading life sciences sector.

“This latest boost comes on the back of the amazing work of the sector in the fight against coronavirus. This funding will help our scientists make even more leaps forward and breakthroughs, having a huge impact on lives across the UK and beyond.

“Funding of our research centres, labs and manufacturing space will help create high-quality, highly-skilled and well-paid jobs in the innovative industries of the future for local people.”

The Vaccine Taskforce previously supported the construction and development of CPI’s centre with funding of £26.48million, and to date, the UK has invested over £405million to secure and scale up the UK’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities, supporting the UK’s ability to respond to future pandemics.

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This comes as experts warned that the risk of zoonotic diseases, or the type of disease that passes from animals to humans, has been growing in Europe, as the continent becomes a hotbed for international wildlife trade.

A new report released today by Pro Wildlife, Humane Society International and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has warned that the European Union is becoming the main hub and destination for stolen wildlife from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania.

Zoonotic diseases have gained prominence over the past few years, particularly as many experts blame the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic on the wildlife that was traded at the wet markets in Wuhan, China.

Dr Sandra Altherr, Head of Science at Pro Wildlife said: “When it comes to the import of exotic mammals, the risk of zoonotic disease is getting higher. Can you imagine that we even import bats from Africa and Asia? We also import squirrels from Latin America and south-east Asia.”

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