UNITED KINGDOM –Contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) Catalent has acquired the UK taxpayer-funded Vaccine Manufacturing & Innovation Centre (VMIC) for an undisclosed fee.

Catalent will invest up to US$160 million in the plant to equip it with cutting-edge technology and hire 400 workers.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, the UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce invested around £200 million (US$270 million) in a facility to address the country’s lack of vaccine manufacturing capacity.

The 74,000-square-foot VMIC in Harwell, near Oxford – about 50 miles west of London – was supposed to provide up to 70 million doses of pandemic vaccine with a six-month response time beginning in 2022, but it never opened its doors, leading to speculation that the UK Government was looking to sell the site.

The rumor mill has come to a halt, as Catalent has announced that it has purchased the facility for an undisclosed sum.

The contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) stated that it now plans to finish construction as soon as possible in order to carry out customer programs from the site this year and integrate its capabilities into its existing European biomanufacturing network.

“The site presently has no manufacturing equipment installed,” a Catalent spokesperson told Bioprocess International.

Catalent intends to invest in the site’s capabilities to establish a center of excellence to support biotherapeutic and vaccine development and manufacturing, with the potential to include mammalian protein production and mRNA manufacturing.

“It is expected that the new facility will have broad capabilities to support public and private developers to advance biotherapeutics, including vaccines, through clinical trials and to patients.”

A UK Government spokesperson said that despite the public funding “VMIC Limited is a private company,” though government grants to VMIC have “led to the development of a vaccine manufacturing facility that will have the capability to produce biotherapeutics and vaccines.

The facility will also be involved in mammalian proteins production, mRNA manufacturing, and fill/finish manufacturing into vials and syringes: a valuable contribution to the UK’s vaccine resilience.

The sale to Catalent will strengthen the UK’s biotherapeutics industry.

Catalent’s capital expenditure

The VMIC is the latest in a long line of capital expenditure investments for Catalent. The CDMO has acquired RheinCell Therapeutics and Promethera’s cell therapy manufacturing subsidiary Hepatic Cell Therapy Support (HCTS) in the last year alone.

Simultaneously, the company has invested US$230 million in its gene therapy campus in Harmans, Maryland (added through the 2019 acquisition of Paragon Bioservices), US$100 million in its fill-finish facility in Anagni, Italy (acquired from Bristol Myers Squibb in June 2019), and completed a US$85 million expansion at its legacy Madison, Wisconsin drug substance facility.

Catalent’s investments in assets focused on biologics manufacture at scale have proven critical to support the production of vaccines and therapeutics against the COVID-19 pandemic,” the spokesperson said.

These investments have increased the number of drug substance manufacturing trains at our Madison, Wisconsin, facility that use single-use bioreactors, and substantially increased the number of manufacturing suites at our viral vector and RNA production facility in Harmans, Maryland.”

There are also reports that up to US$350 million could be invested at the company’s Indiana headquarters. Since Catalent bought Cook Pharmica in 2017, the 875,000-square-foot Bloomington campus has undergone several expansions.

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