28 February 2024

‘Mothballing’ Oxfordshire vaccine centre a mistake, former adviser says

28 February 2024

The “mothballing” of a government-funded vaccine manufacturing centre that was sold to a private pharmaceutical company has been described as a “mistake”.

The £200 million vaccine manufacturing and innovation centre (VMIC) was set up in 2017 in Harwell, Oxfordshire, as a not-for-profit company with the aim of combining vaccine research and manufacturing in one place.

It was sold to US-based Catelant in 2022 before its construction was finished, with campaigners raising concerns about the sale to a profit-making business.

Catelant later announced it was delaying the project, leading to renewed fears about the UK’s future vaccine-manufacturing capabilities.

Ian McCubbin, former industry adviser at the UK’s vaccine taskforce, told MPs at the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee: “I think (mothballing) it probably was a mistake, but the reason I think it was sold was the facility had got bigger.

“It was very, very expensive to run.

“What do you do with a facility that’s expensive to run but you’re actually not doing anything (for) a pandemic?”

He added: “If that facility was in place, not only physically we’d be able to do more work, but it would have a nucleus around which other expertise could gather and I could not overestimate how important that is in a community to make things work.

“So, from a straightforward pandemic preparedness point of view, that is a mistake.”

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