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Coronavirus: UK to spend £84m on Covid-19 vaccine studies, business secretary announces

30 million doses could be available by September if trials prove successful

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Sunday 17 May 2020 17:44 BST
UK to spend £84m on Covid-19 vaccine studies, business secretary announces

The government is providing an additional £84m to accelerate coronavirus vaccine research at Oxford University and Imperial College London and potentially make 30 million doses available in the UK as early as September, business secretary Alok Sharma has announced.

Mr Sharma told the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing that clinical trials of the Oxford vaccine were “progressing well”, while the Imperial team aimed to start clinical trials in mid-June and larger scale tests in October.

And he said the new government cash – which comes on top of £47m previously committed to the trials and brings to more than £250m the total state support for Covid-19 vaccine research in Britain – would allow the early mass production of the Oxford vaccine so that inoculations can begin across the UK immediately if the trials are successful.

The business secretary cautioned that an effective vaccine may never be found. He announced that six drugs to treat coronavirus have now entered initial live clinical trials as part of a UK study, and will move on to larger-scale trials if results are positive.

The announcement comes after Mr Sharma today committed £93m to fast-track the construction of a vaccine manufacture centre in Oxfordshire, now due to open 12 months early in summer 2021 with the potential to produce enough doses for the entire UK population in the space of six months, and a further £38m for a rapid deployment facility to allow production at scale from this summer.

Mr Sharma said that a global licensing agreement struck between Oxford and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca would allow 30 million doses of the vaccine to be made available for the UK in September if it proves effective, as part of an eventual 100 million doses.

And he promised: “The UK will be first to get access.”

Mr Sharma said that the Oxford and Imperial studies were “two of the world’s front-runners to develop a vaccine”.

He said: “The first clinical trial of the Oxford vaccine is progressing well with all Phase One participants having received their vaccine dose on schedule earlier this week. They are now being monitored closely by the clinical trial team.

“The speed at which Oxford University has designed and organised these complex trials is genuinely unprecedented.

“Imperial College is looking to move into clinical trials by mid-June and larger-scale trials in October.”

Mr Sharma said that the AstraZeneca deal for “commercialisation and manufacturing” of the Oxford vaccine included provisions to ensure that supplies can be made available to developing countries at the lowest possible price.

“In total, the government has now committed over a quarter of a billion pounds towards developing a vaccine in the UK,” said the business secretary. “But there are no certainties. In spite of the tireless efforts of our scientists, it is possible that we may never find a successful coronavirus vaccine.

“So we also need to look at other drug treatments and therapeutics for people who get the virus.”

Mr Sharma said: “Our scientists are working tirelessly to develop vaccines and drug treatments, condensing work that would usually take years into months and even weeks. Their drive and dedication inspires us all and with their help we will overcome coronavirus.”

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