UK reportedly selling £200m vaccine plant that never produced a single dose

It is reported the UK government has turned its back on the Vaccine Manufacturing & Innovation Centre (VMIC), a facility setup in response to COVID-19 that never actually opened its doors.

The UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce launched several programs to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic as it emerged in early 2020, including one to address the country’s lack of vaccine manufacturing capacity.

The VMIC in Harwell, about 50 miles west of London, planned to offer up to 70 million doses of pandemic vaccine, deliverable within a six-month response time.

UK PM (at time of going to press) Boris Johnson visiting the VMIC in September 2020. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street c/o Flickr

The “permanent facility, with government step-in rights during a crisis” was expected to open its doors by the end of 2021 and offer “flexible cleanrooms and single use bioreactors [that] could be used to manufacture mRNA, protein, or viral vectored vaccines,” a government strategy report stated in December 2020.

But despite around £200 million ($270 million) of funding, production never began at the 74,000 square-foot facility and now the UK Government is hoping to offload the site, The Telegraph reported Saturday.

Matthew Duchars, who headed up VMIC until last year, told the newspaper (behind paywall) such a large publicly run commercial facility became redundant after industry stepped in to develop and manufacture the various COVID vaccines.

“When the Government saw how companies like AstraZeneca and Pfizer were fulfilling that manufacturing need, they could breathe a sigh of relief… All that changed the dynamic of what VMIC was for.”

The VMIC did not respond to email or telephone efforts by this publication for confirmation of the impending sale.

However, when rumours of its sale first emerged in November 2021, a VMIC spokesperson dismissed them, telling us: “We remain committed to ensuring that VMIC delivers against the objectives it was established for, ultimately, accelerating vaccine development, strengthening UK resilience, and providing long-term manufacturing capability for the UK.”

According to The Financial Times, potential buyers of the site include Oxford Biomedica, Fujifilm, and Lonza.