Boris Johnson has announced a deal with a British pharmaceuticals giant to “fill and finish” 60 million doses of a new coronavirus vaccine onshore, which avoids them having to be transported to Europe amid the threat of a jab trade war.
The Prime Minister told a televised Downing Street press conference that the vaccine taskforce had stepped in to clinch a deal with GlaxoSmithKline, a British multinational company, to perform the final part of the manufacturing process on domestic soil. The doses had been expected to be transported to Germany to be put into vials.
He said: “At the same time as we push forward with our programme to offer a vaccination to all adults by the end of July, we’re building up our own long-term UK manufacturing capabilities.
“I’ve already told you that Novavax, a potentially significant new weapon in our armoury against Covid, will be made at Fujifilm in the North East.
“And I can today announce that the vaccine taskforce has reached an agreement with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), to ‘finish and fill’ this precious fluid also in the North East, giving us between 50 and 60 million doses of UK-made vaccine, subject to the right approvals from the MHRA.”
The taskforce’s intervention means the UK doses, the vast majority of which are set to be manufactured in Stockton-on-Tees, no longer have to leave the country to travel to the continent.
The last-minute deal means the Government has ensured that every stage of the production process is completed on British soil, boosting the resilience of the supply chain.
It comes in the wake of Brussels threatening to use emergency powers to stop vaccine stockpiles leaving the European Union to go to countries that are further along their vaccination programmes or which have not been exporting jabs into the bloc.
A Downing Street source said of the deal: “We’ve been working on plans for some time, in terms of building domestic manufacturing capability, so it is easier to get everything needed for the vaccine here this year, but also for the future.
“We have all the expertise here: GSK has this facility, Fujifilm have their facility in the North East as well. It means it’s more secure, but the main thing is about investing in the UK.”
Other Government sources also highlighted that Britain has invested in domestic vaccine production from the start, with cash poured into a series of plants across the North of England, where ministers have pledged to “level up” communities.
One senior Whitehall source said the move was “consistent with our approach so far”, adding that the Government wanted to ensure Britain is at the centre of future advances in vaccine manufacturing and technology.
GSK will “fill and finish” at least 60 million doses of the Novavax jab at its manufacturing site in Barnard Castle, in the North of England, which is enough to meet the Government’s 60 million order from US-based vaccine maker Novavax.
Before the collaboration with GSK was brokered, it is understood that the fill and finish process was to be carried out at a facility in Germany.
“Our expectation is the 60 million doses we are making will stay in the UK,” a spokesperson for GSK said.
“Negotiations on this agreement started over recent weeks, brokered by the vaccines taskforce as part of their capacity planning for vaccines.
“The doses were probably likely intended to be made elsewhere but capacity and delays in supply chains overall have come into play… GSK is stepping in to make sure the doses can get made according to the timeline.”
GSK is manufacturing the vaccines at cost. The protein antigen component of the jab is being produced in the North East by Novavax’ manufacturing partner, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees.
Mr Johnson said: “GSK’s investment shows the strength of UK manufacturing, and will further boost our vaccine rollout.”
“The vaccines taskforce has worked hand-in-glove with business to successfully deliver vaccines to the whole of the UK, and this agreement will continue to support our approach.”
The Novavax jab, which has undergone Phase III clinical trials, is likely to be approved by the UK’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, in the next few weeks.
GSK is ramping up its capacity now so that it can begin to make the doses in May. Capacity will start at 200,000 vials a month, with one vial containing several doses, rising to one million vials a month by peak production in September.
The delays that GSK has faced with its own Covid vaccine, in collaboration with France’s Sanofi, has in part given it the spare capacity to help with the Novavax jab.
“GSK is… now undertaking the rapid preparation work required to manufacture up to 60 million doses of this vaccine. We have ensured that we can deliver these volumes without impacting supply of our other vital medicines and vaccines,” said Roger Connor, president of GSK vaccines.
Rick Crowley, operations chief at Novavax, said: “This partnership with GSK continues the expansion of our global supply network, which we expect to increase overall production capacity.
“We thank the UK Government’s vaccine taskforce for its instrumental role in ensuring the progress of our Covid-19 vaccine, from both a clinical and now manufacturing perspective, as well as GSK for making their facilities available to help fight the pandemic.”
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said: “We’ve all seen just how important onshore vaccine manufacturing capabilities are, and this fantastic deal will ensure more of these vital products can be produced here in the UK.
“Should the Novavax vaccine meet our medicines regulator’s high standards of safety and effectiveness, the agreement reached today will boost these efforts over the coming months.”