The UK government and biopharmaceutical firm CureVac (CVAC) have announced a new partnership to collaborate on development of vaccines against COVID-19 strains.
The collaboration will utilise expertise, resources and technology from both sides to develop and manufacture vaccines for commercial use and distribution in the UK and its territories.
The vaccines are subject to regulatory approval from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
But the government has ordered an initial 50 million doses to be delivered later this year if required.
If approved, the 50 million doses will be on top of the 407 million vaccine doses already secured by the government to date.
“This is exactly the kind of work that will stand us in good stead as we continue our monumental national effort to end this pandemic and return to normality,” vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng confirmed the partnership on Twitter (TWTR) and said that the UK must be “prepared for all eventualities.”
Kwarteng added: “I can also confirm the agreement will allow large-scale manufacturing in the UK.”
The partnership with the German firm will “boost the UK’s capacity to develop and manufacture variant vaccines” in Britain, and “strengthen domestic capabilities,” the government said.
The number of coronavirus vaccine shots given in Britain has now passed 10 million, latest government figures show.
Meanwhile, scientists have expressed worry that a more transmissible COVID-19 strain in the UK is mutating further and could make current vaccines less effective.
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Almost all vaccines developed through with CureVac will be variants of one of their existing jabs which is currently undergoing Phase 3 clinical trials.
This means that “it should be possible to accelerate clinical trials ahead of submission to the regulator for approval,” the government said.
“The process is similar to the method used to update flu vaccines each year — updated and accelerated using the newly-proven mRNA technology that can be reformulated against variants more quickly than older and more traditional vaccine technologies.”
MRNA technology can be quickly tweaked to address new mutations of a virus if necessary.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “The vaccines we are deploying now are safe and effective, with the latest evidence suggesting they provide protection against new strains of Covid-19.”
It comes after pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) and CureVac announced a €150m (£132m, $181m) partnership to develop next generation mRNA vaccines for new strains of COVID-19.
The companies said that its collaboration will allow them “to keep one step ahead of the pandemic.”
Development will begin immediately, with the target of introducing the vaccine in 2022, subject to regulatory approval.
The vaccine they develop can either be used to protect people who have not been vaccinated before, or to serve as boosters if immunity gained from an initial vaccination reduces over time.
The deal will build on CureVac's first generation COVID-19 vaccine candidate CVnCoV, which is currently in clinical trial.
GSK will also support the manufacture of up to 100 million doses of CVnCoV in 2021.
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