£40 million UK animal vaccine centre to be established at Pirbright

A new £40 million centre at Pirbright to develop vaccines for zoonotic diseases that spread from animals to humans is to be established as part of a landmark global health declaration by G7 leaders.

It was part of a commitment made by leaders at the G7 meeting in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, to ensure that the global devastation caused by Covid-19 is never repeated.

The new UK Animal Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre will be established at the Pirbright Institute campus in Surrey. The centre will be funded by Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

The UK government will contribute £18.5 million while The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will provide £14.5 million to establish the centre, building on its current investments in vaccines for livestock and zoonotic diseases at The Pirbright Institute.

Accelerating vaccines for livestock diseases

The new centre will draw on Pirbright’s expertise to accelerate the delivery of vaccines for livestock diseases.

Three in every four new human diseases originate in animals and these diseases are emerging at an increasing rate. Controlling zoonotic diseases is a key element of the UK Government’s five-point plan for preventing future pandemics – the first plan articulated by a G7 leader on pandemic preparedness.

Part of this plan is to establish a UK Animal Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre at Pirbright, with the aim of stopping new animal-borne diseases before they put people at risk.

The Carbis Bay declaration will set out the steps G7 countries will take to prevent a future pandemic, including slashing the time taken to develop and licence vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for any future disease to under 100 days, a commitment to reinforce global surveillance networks and genomic sequencing capacity and support for reforming and strengthening the World Health Organisation.

Zoonotic diseases pose a risk to people if they mutate to become transmissible to humans and can devastate agriculture in the UK and internationally. Often the risks and complexities associated with early-stage vaccine research mean that the field struggles to get private investment. The centre will rapidly assess promising new technologies in the field, and develop and test novel vaccines for emerging diseases.

Pirbright played a critical role in supporting the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, by using an established pig model to test immune responses to the vaccine.

Two devastating global diseases – smallpox and rinderpest (the first two diseases in history to be totally wiped out) were eradicated using vaccines developed by British scientists, the latter included Pirbright scientist Walter Plowright.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “In the last year the world has developed several effective coronavirus vaccines, licenced and manufactured them at pace and is now getting them into the arms of the people who need them.

“But to truly defeat coronavirus and recover we need to prevent a pandemic like this from ever happening again. That means learning lessons from the last 18 months and doing it differently next time around.

“I am proud that for the first time today the world’s leading democracies have come together to make sure that never again will we be caught unaware.”

Pirbright director and chief executive Prof. Bryan Charleston said: “There is a global unmet need to accelerate the development of vaccines from the laboratory to provide effective products for livestock keepers to control disease in their animals.

“Preventing disease by vaccination will help secure food supplies and so improve human health and welfare.”

Stronger global disease surveillance

Dr. Tedros Adhanom, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said: “Together we need to build on the significant scientific and collaborative response to the Covid-19 pandemic and find common solutions to address many of the gaps identified.

“To this end, WHO welcomes and will take forward the UK’s proposal for a Global Pandemic Radar. As we discussed, the world needs a stronger global surveillance system to detect new epidemic and pandemic risks.”

Prof. Melanie Welham, BBSRC executive chief, added: “In the last year, more than ever, we have recognised the global importance of vaccine research and how the UK plays a leading role. Now, we can take the opportunity of joining UK expertise with an international effort in the field of veterinary vaccines.

“The new facility – which BBSRC will co-fund – at the world-renowned Pirbright Institute, will be a shield and a sword against animal diseases that can devastate agriculture and infect human populations.”

Initial vaccine development work will take place at the Plowright Building (pictured top), Pirbright’s state-of-the-art high containment research facility before being assessed in the new Animal Vaccine Innovation Centre. The Plowright Building was named after Walter Plowright, who developed a highly successful rinderpest vaccine that contributed to the eradication of the disease.