The government is to invest up to £93m in the UK’s new vaccine manufacturing centre to ensure it opens next summer.
Described as a key component of the government’s coronavirus programme, the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) was previously scheduled to open in 2022.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma will also announce on Sunday a further £38m investment on a temporary facility which could begin to produce a vaccine this summer, if one is found.
Vaccine production is extremely limited in the UK, but when the VMIC is completed it should be capable of producing enough vaccines to serve the entire UK population in as few as six months.
As of this weekend there have been more than 240,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK, with more than 34,000 deaths – although official figures are likely to be limited.
There are currently no confirmed treatments available for patients with the virus, although clinical trials of a vaccine developed by scientists at the University of Oxford are ongoing.
Researchers at Oxford’s Jenner Institute believe their vaccine, officially called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (pronounced Chaddox One), has an 80% chance of success based on previous work.
The same vaccine technology has been used on other diseases, including the related coronavirus MERS, as well as Ebola.
It is essentially a version of a common cold virus that has been modified so that it doesn’t cause symptoms but instead causes the immune system to produce coronavirus antibodies.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot told Sky News that he believed the scientists would have a pretty good idea by July whether their vaccine works.
However the government’s chief medical officer insists a jab is still 12 to 18 months off, and has insisted some form of social distancing will still be needed until one is in widespread use.
Despite this, the researchers – alongside AstraZeneca and other companies – are manufacturing a million doses themselves by September ahead of the completion of the trial.
The VMIC is being built on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
It will be the UK’s first not-for-profit organisation established to develop the mass production of vaccines.
In the long-term it will boost the country’s capacity against future viruses, and also assist in manufacturing vaccines for existing diseases such as the flu.
Mr 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.
“The new Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre and temporary facility will build ‘fill and finish’ capacity, bringing the UK vaccine programme together from discovery to distribution.”
VMIC’s chief executive Dr Matthew Duchars described the business secretary’s announcement as “an important endorsement” for the centre, which has also received £76m in private funding.