National research and innovation infrastructures play a critical role in enabling the UK to maintain its world-leading status in research and innovation. The Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub, based at Imperial College London, is providing essential research infrastructure and expertise to support the development and manufacturing of a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
Through funding from a joint initiative of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub was established to develop modular methods that enable rapid vaccine development for highly infectious pathogens in low income countries.
Traditionally, most vaccines are manufactured by generating antigens – proteins that are often made using other organisms such as yeasts or cells, which can limit the speed at which large numbers of doses can be manufactured.
To develop the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, scientists have synthesised genetic code associated with the spike glycoprotein, a protein that helps the virus to enter human cells. The vaccine works by instructing muscle cells that have been injected with the vaccine to make the protein, which the body’s immune system then develops antibodies for. Once developed, these antibodies can then help the body to recognise and fight against the virus in the future.
The modular manufacturing technique has previously been used to develop vaccines for other virus infections such as foot-and-mouth disease and rabies. Following pre-clinical animal testing, the RNA-based SARS-CoV-2 vaccine has just begun phase I clinical trials within the UK.
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