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UK Health Security Agency opens advanced Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre

Scherm­afbeelding 2023 09 14 om 12.15.35

UK Health Security Agency opens advanced Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre

Centre to lead UK’s ability to develop vaccines against pathogens with pandemic potential

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has opened its Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre (VDEC), which builds on its pandemic legacy and will help develop new vaccines for the UK and worldwide.

The centre is situated at the UKHSA’s Porton Down site, where it is co-located with other services delivered separately by partners including the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

The creation of the centre, in over 2,800 sq.m of laboratory space at Porton Down, is a major part of UKHSA’s three-year strategy < > and incorporates more than 200 leading scientists working on around 100 projects, including tackling pathogens with pandemic potential.

Its work involves supporting the development of new vaccines by testing and evaluating them against threats capable of causing a health emergency. The centre’s work is conducted throughout the vaccine lifecycle, from early in the vaccine product design through to evaluating vaccine effectiveness, which continues when new variants arise.

In particular, the centre will target pathogens for which a vaccine does not exist or is not regulated in the UK, or could be improved, such as avian influenza, mpox (monkeypox) or hantavirus, a severe infection that can pass from rodents to humans.

In one example of its work,  VDEC’s teams are already  running phase one clinical  trials for what could be a  world-first vaccine against Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever,  a virus that is spread by the bite of an infected tick and is fatal in about 30% of cases.

They are also targeting common infections like tuberculosis (TB) and Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection that can cause significant problems in healthcare settings.

Building on capabilities developed during the COVID-19 pandemic to test emerging vaccines against new variants, VDEC has been created to take that work forward and expand its remit to a wide range of other pathogens and diseases.

The centre has a unique set of capabilities specialising in high consequence infectious diseases and working to the highest standards of safety, quality and security, making its research and outputs trusted worldwide.

Professor Dame Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said: “VDEC is a hugely exciting step-change for the UK’s vaccine research and development capabilities and a vital component of UKHSA’s critical work highlighted in our three-year strategy, including preparing the UK against many of the biggest infectious disease threats. “VDEC is a unique facility in the UK, delivering multiple critical early pre and post clinical research and evaluation studies in a single research facility. This essential work will lead the way over the coming years in our fight against potentially deadly pathogens.”

VDEC’s work also plays a crucial role in the UK’s contribution to the global 100 Days Mission, launched in 2021 under the UK G7 presidency with the ambitious aim of deploying an effective vaccine within 100 days of identifying a new pandemic threat.


Examples of VDEC’s work

Testing of vaccine efficacy

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, VDEC scientists developed a unique assay to assess the effectiveness of emerging vaccines. It involved testing blood samples of those infected with the virus or post vaccination to measure their ability to neutralise (kill) SARS-CoV-2 live virus. The test has been used to evaluate the efficacy of multiple vaccines. At the time, they were able to test around 100 samples a week. Capability has now been scaled up, enabling scientists to run tests on around 3,000 samples against a range of diseases every week.

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever vaccine development
Thanks to the research capabilities at VDEC, scientists discovered the possibility of a developing vaccine against this fatal disease, which has around a 30% fatality rate. The vaccine is now being put through stage one clinical trials and, if successful, will be a world-first.

Seasonal influenza
VDEC has scaled up its ability to test and evaluate influenza vaccines from around the world at speed. This enables it to respond and prove effectiveness of vaccines more quickly in the event of a major outbreak.

Avian influenza
VDEC is one of the few global facilities with the capability to handle a pathogen with such a high containment category and scientists are preparing the ground and establishing the facility’s capability to test vaccines from private developers

Preparing to tackle ‘Disease X’
VDEC scientists have developed immunological assays or tests through which they can measure the effectiveness of vaccines against bacterial infections. These assays are being evaluated for use to combat similar, more threatening pathogens with a pandemic potential.

High-throughput screening
Capabilities at VDEC have been scaled up to enable scientists to test hundreds, even thousands of therapeutic drugs and treatments against a newly emerged pathogen all at the same time. It enables scientists to quickly establish which existing drugs are most effective against the virus.

This article contains public sector information licensed under the UK Open Government Licence v3.0.