UKHSA Unveils World-Leading Vaccine Development And Evaluation Centre

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has today unveiled its world-leading Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre (VDEC), which is building on its pandemic legacy and helping develop life-saving new vaccines for the UK and worldwide.

The center 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 center, in over 2,800 square meters of laboratory space at Porton Down, is a major part of UKHSA’s 3-year strategy and incorporates over 200 leading scientists working on around 100 wide-ranging projects, including tackling deadly 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 center 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 hemorrhagic fever, a virus that is spread by the bite of an infected tick and is sadly 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 deadly pathogens and diseases.

The center has a unique set of capabilities specializing 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’s work also forms 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.

A report published today (Monday) by UKHSA finds the UK is making important progress towards these ambitions in 6 key areas, including vaccines research, development and manufacturing.

Professor Isabel Oliver, Chief Scientific Officer of UKHSA, said:

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Barclay, said:

Examples of VDEC’s work

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, VDEC scientists developed a unique assay (test) 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 neutralize (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 hemorrhagic 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, would 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.