A new centre dedicated to the development and evaluation of vaccines has been unveiled today by the UK Health Security Agency (UHKSA).
The £65 million facility located within the high security science and defence technology campus at Porton Down will be at the "forefront" of the UK's ability to research and develop vaccines against the world's deadliest pathogens, according to the Agency.
The Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre (VDEC) can accommodate over 200 scientists working in more than 2800 square metres of laboratory space. The UKHSA said they would be targeting pathogens for which a vaccine does not exist or is not regulated in the UK, or vaccines which could be improved, such as avian influenza, Mpox, or hantavirus.
Lab Can Handle Live Viruses
The VDEC laboratory is one of the few in the world with the capability to handle pathogens with a high containment category, although the centre will also target common infections like Tuberculosis (TB) and Clostridium difficile, UKHSA pointed out.
England's Health and Care Secretary Steve Barclay said the Wiltshire complex will "also help us deliver on our commitment to produce new vaccines within 100 days of a new threat being identified".
Professor Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of UKHSA, described the centre as a "hugely exciting step-change" for the UK's vaccine research and development capabilities and a "vital component" of the Agency's work. "VDEC is a unique facility in the UK, delivering multiple critical early pre- and post-clinical research and evaluation studies in a single research facility," she said, adding that it would enhance the UK's credentials as a "global science superpower".
Preparing for Disease X
The VDEC was created to build on capabilities developed during the COVID-19 pandemic to develop and test emerging vaccines against new variants. That work is already underway in the adjacent £27 million Robinson Building, which was officially opened at Porton in February last year.
Scientists at the VDEC will work with government bodies, academia, and industry, across the full vaccine development pathway, from research to clinical trials, evaluating vaccine effectiveness, and offering support for products after they are licenced.
Clinical trials were already being undertaken at the centre in what could be a "world-first" vaccine against Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever, and that would "prepare the UK to tackle 'Disease X' in readiness for unknown future threats", according to the Agency.
VDEC's unveiling coincided with the publication of the UKHSA's 100 Day Mission report, which found that the UK had already made progress in the areas of surveillance, cross-diagnostic, therapeutic, and vaccines research and development, manufacturing, therapeutics coordination, clinical trials/regulation, and financing and procurement.