I would like to thank the team at Cobra Biologics on Keele Science Park for inviting me to come and speak with their CEO and Chief Scientific Officer today, followed by a tour of their manufacturing and research facilities. Social distancing was observed at all times, together with very frequent hand-washing as we moved around their site!
I went to speak with Cobra as both their local MP and also as a member of the Commons Science & Technology Committee, because they will be manufacturing some of the first doses of the vaccine that is currently in clinical trials. Professor Sarah Gilbert, of the Jenner Institute University of Oxford team that have led this project, is very optimistic about this possible vaccine. It has been developed so rapidly because they were able to modify existing work they were doing to try to find a vaccine for SARS.
Normally we would wait for the results of clinical trials before scaling up production, but clearly it makes sense for us to make some investments now so that, if the trials are a success, we will have as much vaccine already manufactured as possible and the capacity to make more, both for use here in the UK and then around the world.
To that end, it is fortunate that Cobra were already expanding their manufacturing plant. The building work should be finished in the next month or two, which will enable them to house two more bioreactors similar to the one in the second picture. Each of these can produce approximately 2 million doses a month. Together with other companies around the country, this could enable the UK to be self-sufficient this year.
It is great that we have such world class science taking place here in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Now we must all cross our fingers that the high hopes for this vaccine are supported by the clinical trials. I would also like to thank all those who have volunteered for these trials for their selflessness.