British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline will be part of the manufacturing process for up to 60m doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by US rival Novavax in an agreement set to boost UK production of coronavirus jabs.
The vaccine has yet to receive the green light from UK regulators, but is expected to be submitted for approval over the next three months after showing strong efficacy in a recent late-stage trial, including against the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant circulating in the UK.
Under an agreement in principle with Novavax and the UK government’s Vaccines Taskforce, GSK will “fill and finish” 60m doses of the vaccine, preparing the vials and packaging the finished doses for distribution, the company said.
Matt Hancock, health secretary, said: “We’ve all seen just how important onshore vaccine manufacturing capabilities are, and this fantastic deal will ensure more of these vital products can be produced here in the UK.”
Government officials said the GSK deal was “entirely consistent” with a desire by ministers to build up the UK’s vaccine production, which pre-dated the pandemic.
“It’s a technology of the future with the potential to bring huge benefits to the British people,” one official said.
It also helps Britain to sidestep any potential vaccine export ban by a third country. Talks between Britain and the EU are continuing to avert a “vaccine war” and develop co-operation between the two sides.
However government officials suggested the GSK deal had been in the works before the EU threatened to block vaccine exports to the UK and played down any link. “These things aren’t turned around in a week or two,” the official said.
The UK government’s vaccine rollout has been among the most successful in the world, with more than 30m Britons having received a first dose. However, it hit a setback earlier this month when it emerged that supplies would be far lower in April than expected, in part due to delays in securing additional doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute in India.
GSK said the work would be carried out at its Barnard Castle facility in the north-east of England “beginning as early as May 2021, with a rapid technology transfer between the two companies beginning immediately”.
The protein antigen component of the vaccine is already being made in the same part of the country by Novavax’s manufacturing partner, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, at its site in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees.
Roger Connor, head of vaccines for GSK, said the company was “delighted” to support Novavax and the UK Vaccines Taskforce.
GSK had ensured it could deliver the doses without affecting its supply of other medicines and vaccines “and without disruption to the other Covid-19 collaborations GSK is engaged in globally”, Connor added.
Rick Crowley, executive vice-president and chief operations officer for Novavax, said the partnership with GSK “continues the expansion of our global supply network, which we expect to increase overall production capacity and, if approved by regulatory agencies, support access to a potentially important new vaccine against Covid-19.”
Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, said he was “delighted by GSK’s investment, which shows the strength of UK manufacturing, and will further boost our vaccine rollout”. The Vaccines Taskforce had worked “hand in glove with business to successfully deliver vaccines to the whole of the UK,” he said, adding that the government remained on track to offer a first jab to all over-50s by April 15 and all adults by the end of July.