Conference report – KTN vaccine development and manufacture event

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Recently Infectious Diseases Hub attended the Knowledge Transfer Network’s vaccine development and manufacture event focusing on the future innovation landscape for the UK. The event brought together leading individuals from both industry and academia with talks covering a range of topics; from new technologies to scale-down models for producing cheaper vaccines.

To begin, Nigel Titchener-Hooker gave an update from University College London (UCL; UK), who hosted the event. Titchener-Hooker focused on the launch of UCL’s ‘Future Targeted Healthcare Manufacturing Hub’, a project aiming to address some of the issues facing the manufacturing, business and regulatory aspects of producing medications, including vaccines. The Hub will collaborate with five other universities and numerous companies to achieve its objectives, and Titchener-Hooker stressed not only the uniqueness of this project, but also the position of the UK in leading this.

Sarah Goulding speaks on the KTN

Next, we heard from Sarah Goulding from the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN). Goulding explained the role of the KTN, funded by Innovate UK, in supporting and promoting collaboration across the vaccine field and highlighted the importance of medicine manufacturing in the UK landscape – a key theme throughout the day.

Following this, the focus shifted to a different project as Josie Golding (Wellcome Trust, London, UK) presented on the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). Wellcome launched their vaccine strategy in January 2017 looking at four areas, one of which is epidemic preparedness, and part of this is the investment made by Wellcome in CEPI.

Golding highlighted the potential of this project to stimulate, finance and co-ordinate vaccine development, commenting: “I think CEPI is very important to prepare for future epidemics. CEPI is hoping to collaborate with others in order to guarantee that the vaccines they set out develop and test can be used in future outbreaks.”

Dave Hunt (AstraZeneca, London, UK) then gave an optimistic view of industry opportunity in the UK. He emphasized that globally we should be striving towards a proactive, and not a reactive, response to pandemics and that key to this would be factors such as partnerships, investment in research and development, and a positive commercial and regulatory environment. Hunt commented that from an industry perspective commercial risks must be balanced between parties, and benefits shared, in order to ensure vaccine development moves forward.

Moving from industry to academia, Tarit Mukhopadhyay (UCL) spoke on his research as part of the Gates Foundation’s ‘Grand Challenge’ to produce vaccines at ≤15 cents per dose. He outlined the yeast-based secretory system his group are investigating for the production of antigens for the P2-VP8 Rotavirus vaccine, explaining the advantages of this process over the current E. coli-based system. The project, entitled ‘Ultra-low cost, Transferable Automated Platform for Vaccine Manufacture (ULTRA)’, hopes to advance vaccine manufacturing and development tools, with the aim of ensuring vaccines are both affordable and available globally.

The morning session concluded with a presentation from Sarah Gilbert and Tom Merritt (both University of Oxford, UK). Gilbert summarized her work, and the work of the Jenner Institute at Oxford, on developing Adenovirus vaccines. She highlighted their involvement in producing an Ebola vaccine following the 2014 outbreak, and gave an insight into some of their current projects into producing vaccines against MERS and Rift Valley Fever virus. Merritt followed by introducing the work of the Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility at Oxford – specifically their replacement of the shaker flask with a bioreactor, allowing for better control of cell culture, in small-scale manufacture.

Getting ready for the next session

After some lunch and networking, including the opportunity for 1-2-1 partnering, the talks focused on new technologies being developed in the field, beginning with Nick Darton (Arecor, Saffron Walden, UK). Darton talked about Arecor’s work in formulation technology and experience in the stabilization of different vaccines. For example, currently, the company are collaborating with PATH on producing a stable hepatitis B vaccine.

This was followed by Sarah Milsom and Lisa Caproni from Touchlight Genetics (London, UK). Together, they explained Touchlight’s means of DNA amplification via a simple enzymatic process and suggested that this new technology could solve issues surrounding scalability and speed in the development of nucleic acid vaccines.

Plant scientist, Franziska Kellner (Leaf Expression Systems, Norwich, UK), closed this series of presentations. Kellner introduced Hypertrans® – a transient leaf expression system – and its potential for producing vaccines. The system uses an Agrobacterium-mediated infiltration method, and Kellner highlighted current research into producing virus-like particles and ongoing work on chikungunya and Rift Valley Fever virus.

The formal talks concluded with a broader focus on UK industry as Greg Anderson (GlaxoSmithKline, Brentford, UK) gave an overview of the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership (MMIP) and Mike Sullivan (Innovate UK) introduced the Industrial Strategy Challenge fund.

Greg Anderson explains the MMIP

Both of these initiatives seek to aid innovation in the UK. The MMIP hopes to unite the industry, laying out a clear roadmap to ensure the UK continues to be at the forefront of medicines manufacturing. On the other hand, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund aims to bring together business with leading research to meet some of the major challenges being faced in the UK. The fund includes two competitions relevant to vaccine development, one focused around manufacturing new medicines and one on a digital technology for better healthcare.

The day finished with a lively panel discussion where speakers Sarah Gilbert and Mike Sullivan, joined by Jeffery Almond (University of Oxford) and Bassam Hallis (Public Health England) took on challenging questions. There was discussion around new technologies in addition to the panel giving their thoughts on mounting a pandemic response and how the world would cope should such an occurrence arise.

The event provided an opportunity for many diverse individuals to come together and build relationships, not only highlighting the current status of vaccine manufacturing and development, but also providing an opportunity to look forwards – something that is critical in a field preparing for the unknown.

Speaking on the event Gilbert commented: “As vaccine development is such a broad and diverse area it’s really important that we get lots of people from different specialisms together from time-to-time to share expertise and focus on ‘the whole’, from beginning to end of vaccine development.”

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