Northern centre of excellence to help protect world against future pandemics through vaccine technology

A new centre of excellence and training facility specialising in the technology used to create the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines is being launched in the UK.

The centre will specialise in the technology used to create the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines.

Those behind the centre, in the north-east of England, said they will work with the Government and industry to help protect the world against future pandemics and infectious diseases.

The new facility will expand capacity at an existing site in Darlington and is expected to be ready in November, with courses to train and boost the skills of technicians and scientists available from January.

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Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA (messenger RNA) which carry instructions that tell the body to produce a specific tool that can be used to fight disease.

As well as coronavirus, such technology can be used in the treatment of HIV, cancer and heart disease, scientists involved in the new centre said.

Dr Lucy Foley, director of Biologics at CPI – the technology innovation organisation behind the new facility – described the use of RNA as a “much neater way” of making a treatment or a vaccine, and branded it a “real game-changer”.

She said: “I think that industry is really shining a light on RNA and these chemically synthesised products now, saying ‘these are much, much faster to manufacture, if we can get the cost of goods down, this is a much more promising way to treat disease in the future’.”

Compared with conventional vaccines, which are produced using weakened forms of the virus, mRNAs use only the genetic code of the virus.

Due to the fact no actual virus is needed to create an mRNA vaccine, the rate at which doses can be produced is speeded up.

CPI said it is the only company based in the UK capable of developing, manufacturing and encapsulating RNA vaccines ready for use in clinical trials in one location.

They said their facility in the North East is being built in such a way as to allow it to be quickly increased in size to cope with emerging pandemics or infectious disease threats, if needed.

Dr Foley added: “Having established itself as a breakthrough technology during the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to be prepared with the skills and facilities to support this emerging RNA industry.

“Both the RNA Centre of Excellence and training academy will support the development of new licensed RNA products for the treatment of many different diseases.

“This is fantastic news for the biopharmaceutical industry, and for human health.”

The new national training academy will be led in partnership between CPI and the National Horizons Centre (NHC) – the research, teaching and training facility that is part of Teesside University – and offer courses in the development and manufacture of RNA.

Dr Jen Vanderhoven, director at the NHC, said: “With research, partnerships and training at our core, the NHC brings together industry, academia, talent and world-class facilities to create real-world impact.

“The global pandemic has shown the vital role that our sector plays, and it is important that we remain agile and responsive to ensure the UK remains a global life sciences leader.

“We are delighted to partner on this world-leading collaboration, deepening our strategic partnership with CPI, to ensure the UK bioindustry has the future skilled workforce it needs.”