Campaigners have been reacting to the government decision to flog off the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC), which is being built near Oxford with over £215m of taxpayers’ money, to a US pharmaceutical corporation. Rather like the privatisation of Channel 4 it appears to be the privatisation that nobody really wanted – apart from the new US owners.

VMIC was set up as a not for profit company in which a consortium of public universities  – University of Oxford, Imperial College and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – were shareholders.

Experts working with VMIC had opposed any sell-off to a profit-seeking corporation. Sandy Douglas, a vaccine research leader at Oxford University, told the FT it had “accelerated Oxford’s vaccine programme by months” and “saved many lives”. 

Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who developed the AstraZeneca jab, told the FT’s Helen Thomas that a fully-functioning VMIC would have been “game-changing” for the Oxford team in making larger stocks for clinical trials rather than working with multiple manufacturers.

The director of the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, Professor Adrian Hill, told the Independent the sale of VMIC was like “having been in a terrible war and you suddenly cut your defence budget substantially”.

VMIC’s new owners, New Jersey based Catalent, describe themselves as “the global leader in enabling biopharma, cell, gene, and consumer health partners to optimize development, launch, and supply of better patient treatments across multiple modalities.”

The corporation generated $4bn of revenue last year and already has 1,300 staff at four sites in the UK. The new facility, which will now be completed by Catalent, at a cost of £120m, will employ up to 400 people.

Lib Dem Health Spokesperson Daisy Cooper said: “Selling this vital infrastructure is a ridiculously short-sighted move that risks leaving us less prepared for the next pandemic. Vaccines can take decades to develop, and selling this facility shows this Conservative Government’s lack of long-term planning.”

Tom Morton, Lead Campaigner for We Own It, said:

“The idea behind this centre was to make sure new vaccines got made regardless of whether it was profitable to make them or not. It was supposed to support cost-effective development by cutting across competition. Selling the centre to a profit-making pharmaceutical company runs completely counter to the original vision.”

Liz Peretz of Oxfordshire Keep Our NHS Public added: “This sale will leave future breakthrough research struggling with the murky world of commercial contracts. VMIC was founded to cut through that red tape and get vaccines in bulk for rapid distribution. This hope has now been dashed.”


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