A new manufacturing centre in Oxfordshire is getting a multi-million-pound funding boost from the government as part of the race to produce millions of doses of a coronavirus vaccine.

The government will invest up to £93 million to accelerate construction of the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus.

When completed it will have capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to serve the entire UK population in as little as six months.

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The funding will ensure the centre opens in summer 2021, a year ahead of schedule.

The new centre, which is already under construction, is a key component of the government’s coronavirus vaccine programme – ensuring that once a vaccine is available it can be produced quickly and in mass quantities.

It will also accelerate the production of vaccines for existing illnesses such as the flu virus.

While the centre is being built, a ‘virtual VMIC’ will also be created thanks to a further £38m government investment, to begin manufacturing at scale from this summer so it is ready once a viable Covid-19 vaccine has been found.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: "As the biggest contributor to the international coalition to find a vaccine, the UK is leading the global response.

"Once a breakthrough is made, we need to be ready to manufacture a vaccine by the millions."

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The VMIC's Chief Executive Dr Matthew Duchars said: "Today’s announcement by the Business Secretary is an important endorsement for the work the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre will deliver in shoring up future domestic supply of vaccines in response to a pandemic.

"This investment will rapidly accelerate the construction of the facility, enabling us to bring it online a year sooner.

"In addition, the capacity will be significantly increased, so that enough vaccines could be made for everyone in the UK within a matter of months of opening."

UK Research and Innovation Chef Executive Sir Mark Walport, said the centre was 'an essential new weapon in the UK’s arsenal' against diseases and other biological threats, ensuring sufficient vaccines get to the public in the fastest possible time.

He added: "The UKRI-funded teams at Oxford University and Imperial College London have developed potential coronavirus vaccines at unprecedented speed.

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"By working with partners including government, VMIC and the Vaccines Taskforce to fast-track the manufacturing capability, we are ensuring that momentum will continue all the way from lab to patient."

The permanent VMIC facility at Harwell will house specialist equipment drawing on both innovative and traditional technologies.

It is envisaged that much of the work at the new facility will be collaborative ventures with organisations ranging from small and medium sized businesses, through to large multinationals and NGOs.

Welcoming the scale-up and acceleration of the state-of-the art facility Dr Barbara Ghinelli, Director of Harwell Clusters and Business Development said: “Investing in the acceleration and expansion of VMIC is wise both in the medium- and long-term.

"Opening the facility, a year ahead of schedule will strengthen the UK’s efforts to tackle Covid-19 and give us resilience for future pandemics.£

She added: “In the long-term, with increased R&D and manufacturing capability, the dentre will act as a catalyst to strengthen the UK vaccines value chain – creating new fields of expertise and driving forward innovation to the benefit of the global science community.”