A ground-breaking new research hub has been set up to help halt future outbreaks of killer diseases like Ebola and Zika. The landmark project will help to increase vaccine coverage across the globe and improve the response to deadly outbreaks through the rapid deployment of life-saving vaccines.
Currently, nearly one in five infants across the world – 19.5 million children – do not have access to basic vaccines, and almost one-third of deaths among children under five could be prevented through the use of vaccines.
The effective distribution of vaccines is hampered in rural areas of low and middle-income nations by the costs associated with their production and purification and the need for them to be stored at temperatures of between 2-8ºC.
The new Hub will look to address two major challenges facing attempts to create future vaccine manufacturing systems:
- -How to design a production system that can produce 10,000 of new doses within weeks of a new threat being identified
- -How to improve current manufacturing processes and change the way vaccines are manufactured, stabilized and stored so that existing and new diseases can be prevented effectively, and costs reduced
Public Health Minister, Steve Brine said: "It is a tragedy that so many people across the world die because they do not have access to basic vaccines. Diseases do not respect borders and we have a responsibility to fight them both at home and abroad.
"Our scientists and laboratories are world-leading and can hold the key to making and deploying more life-saving vaccines – including when emerging threats arise like Zika or Ebola. This hub has the immense potential to save and improve the lives of millions."
Project lead investigator, Professor Robin Shattock said: "Through the establishment of the Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub we are looking to exploit the next wave of biotechnology innovation to rapidly respond to emerging outbreaks and empower countries most at risk to infections to meet their local vaccine needs."
EPSRC's Chief Executive, Professor Philip Nelson, said: "Vaccines and their availability can mean the difference between life and death for millions of people across the globe. Many of these deaths, whether they are a result of polio, diphtheria or measles, could be prevented through immunization, and research at the Hub will look to overcome barriers currently blocking progress in this field.
"At the same time, this investment will also support the researchers as they strive to develop ways to respond rapidly and efficiently to threats such as Ebola and Zika and save many lives in the future."
Approaches that will be explored by researchers at the Hub include the development of synthetic RNA vaccines which can be rapidly manufactured; the rapid production of yeast and bacterially-expressed particles that mimic components of pathogenic viruses and bacteria; and protein stabilisation to preserve vaccines at temperatures of up to 100 ºC, avoiding the need for refrigerated distribution and storage.