CDMO Catalent has picked up the UK taxpayer-funded Vaccine Manufacturing & Innovation Centre (VMIC) for an undisclosed fee.
In early 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce invested around £200 million ($270 million) into a facility aimed at addressing the country’s lack of vaccine manufacturing capacity.
The 74,000 square-foot VMIC in Harwell, near Oxford – about 50 miles west of London – had been expected to offer up to 70 million doses of pandemic vaccine, deliverable within a six-month response time from 2022, but the facility never opened its doors, leading to speculation the UK Government was looking to offload the site.
And today the rumor mill has stopped turning, as Catalent announced it has snapped up the facility for an undisclosed fee. The contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) said it now aims to complete construction as soon as possible to both carry out customer programs from the site this year and integrate its capabilities within its existing European biomanufacturing network.
To do this, Catalent will equip the plant with state-of-the-art capabilities and hire 400 staff through an investment of up to $160 million.
“The site presently has no manufacturing equipment installed,” a Catalent spokesperson told this publication. “Catalent intends to invest in the site’s capabilities to establish a center of excellence to support biotherapeutic and vaccine development and manufacturing, with the potential to include mammalian protein production and mRNA manufacturing.
“It is expected that the new facility will have broad capabilities to support public and private developers to advance biotherapeutics, including vaccines, through clinical trials and to patients.”
A UK Government spokesperson told us that despite the public funding “VMIC Limited is a private company,” though government grants to VMIC have “led to the development of a vaccine manufacturing facility that will have the capability to produce biotherapeutics and vaccines, potentially including mammalian protein production, mRNA manufacturing, and fill/finish manufacturing into vials and syringes: a valuable contribution to the UK’s vaccine resilience.”
The sale to Catalent will strengthen the UK’s biotherapeutics industry, we were told.
“This investment by Catalent is necessary to keep the facility open into the long-term. It also represents a strong vote of confidence in the UK as a destination for life sciences, especially following our response to the global Covid-19 vaccine challenge, and Catalent’s ambitious plans for this facility will build on that work.”
For Catalent, the VMIC is the latest in a long line of CapEx spends. Within the past 12 months alone, the CDMO has acquired RheinCell Therapeutics and bought Promethera’s cell therapy manufacturing subsidiary Hepatic Cell Therapy Support (HCTS).
Simultaneously, the firm has invested $230 million into its gene therapy campus in Harmans, Maryland (added through the 2019 acquisition of Paragon Bioservices), ploughed $100 million into its Anagni, Italy fill-finish facility (acquired from Bristol Myers Squibb in June 2019), and completed an $85 million expansion at its heritage Madison, Wisconsin drug substance facility.
“Catalent’s investments in assets focused on biologics manufacture at scale have proven critical to support the production of vaccines and therapeutics against the COVID-19 pandemic,” the spokesperson said.
“These investments have increased the number of drug substance manufacturing trains at our Madison, Wisconsin, facility that use single-use bioreactors, and substantially increased the number of manufacturing suites at our viral vector and RNA production facility in Harmans, Maryland.”
There are also rumors that up to $350 million could be invested at its site in Indiana. The 875,000 square-foot Bloomington campus has already been subject to several expansions since Catalent acquired it from Cook Pharmica in 2017.