Vaccines tailored to tackle COVID-19 variants are to be accelerated through new state-of-the-art labs, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced today (Wednesday 5 May).
The government will invest £29.3 million through the Vaccines Taskforce in Public Health England’s new testing facilities at Porton Down, to assess the effectiveness of existing and new vaccines against variants of concern.
The funding will increase the site’s current capacity from 700 to 3,000 blood samples tested a week in order to fast-track variant vaccines – these tests measure the levels of antibodies to COVID-19 that are generated by the vaccines.
The investment will enable Porton Down’s expert scientists to accelerate the pace and scale of specialised testing to support the rapid development of vaccines designed to combat specific mutations of COVID-19.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:
“The UK has proven itself to be a world-class force in the production of COVID-19 vaccines, with the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Novavax and Valneva vaccines all researched, developed or manufactured on British soil.
“We’ve backed UK science from the very start of this pandemic and this multi-million pound funding for a state-of-the-art vaccine testing facility at Porton Down will enable us to further future-proof the country from the threat of new variants.
“We are committed to supporting the UK’s flourishing life sciences industry and this announcement is yet another critical way we will build back better to protect the country over the coming months and years.”
While there is promising evidence existing vaccines are effective against variants such as those first identified in Kent and South Africa, work continues to ensure we have a robust programme to test current and potential future variants of concern.
The expanded testing capacity at Porton Down will ensure the UK stays one step ahead of the virus and is in the best possible position to respond to new threats from COVID-19 as quickly as possible.
The government is working with existing and new suppliers to design vaccines targeted at variants of concern and the Porton Down facility will support this process.
Minister for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi said:
“Our vaccination programme has so far saved thousands of lives, but it’s vital we put in place robust support for the programme for the future.
“This funding will allow us to increase the testing capacity at Porton Down with a new innovative facility and ensure our COVID-19 vaccines are effective against any future variants of concern.
“The UK remains at the forefront of vaccine research and development, and today’s announcement will further cement us as a global frontrunner in our future response to COVID-19.”
All vaccines being used in the UK have met the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA) strict standards of safety, effectiveness and quality.
Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said:
“A new variant that can escape the current vaccines is the greatest risk of a third wave. This new investment will help us stay one step ahead of the virus by doubling our capacity to test vaccine effectiveness against emerging variants.
“While we expect the existing vaccines to offer protection against new variants, particularly preventing serious illness and death, it is important that we continue to monitor the picture as it develops.
“The best way to prevent the spread of variants is the same as always – follow public health advice and remember hands, face, space.”