A US biotechnology company has agreed a £1bn deal with the government to build a centre to fight Covid and other diseases.
Boston-based biotech company Moderna is to build the UK’s first R&D centre dedicated to developing mRNA vaccines against new variants of Covid and other respiratory diseases in order to improve preparedness for future pandemics.
Under a £1bn agreement with the UK government, construction of the new centre – Moderna’s first UK facility – could start later this year, with the first vaccines expected to be available in 2025.
The shots are based on informational RNA, a molecule that teaches our cells to produce specific proteins that trigger an immune response within our bodies. Moderna has developed one of two mRNA vaccines used worldwide against Covid-19, the other being produced by German company BioNTech and US firm Pfizer.
Moderna CEO Stephan Buncel said the priority is to develop a vaccine combining boosters against Covid, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms but can be serious for infants and the elderly.
The mRNA technology has proved to be one of the fastest ways to create an effective vaccine against Covid and scientists are investigating its use against other diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, influenza and malaria.
Boris Johnson said the investment would “guarantee a battlefield hit against some of the toughest viruses, putting us at the forefront of the fight against future threats”. He added: “We have all seen what vaccines can do and today’s partnership brings us one step closer to finding a cure for some of the most devastating diseases.”
Health Minister Sajid Javid added: “Our new partnership with Moderna will strengthen the UK’s status as a scientific superpower, boost the economy significantly and create jobs – and it has the potential to discover the next generation of advanced vaccines to fight coronavirus. diseases such as Covid, seasonal flu and RSV.”
Moderna said it plans to expand its presence in the UK through investment in research and development, and has promised to conduct most of its clinical trials in the UK.
Separately, Moderna said it plans to submit an application to US and UK regulators for approval of its new two-strain vaccine against Covid-19 within days. The company has published data showing that the vaccine, called mRNA1273.214, protects against Omicron strains BA.4 and BA.5, which are causing the current spike in cases . The new vaccine combines 25 µg of the original Moderna Covid vaccine with 25 µg of a vaccine specifically designed for the Omicron variant.
Dr Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said the company was ready to deliver the vaccine for revaccination as early as August. According to Burton, using vaccines based on the original Covid strain for autumn booster programmes will result in “shorter duration of protection, less robust protection and more severe illness and hospital admissions”.