Pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s decision to choose Bristol as the location for its second centre of excellence for vaccine research is a “real vote of confidence” in the UK, the Health Secretary has said.
Matt Hancock was speaking at the launch of the Pfizer Centre of Excellence for Epidemiology of Vaccine-preventable Diseases, based at the University of Bristol, which is the first of its kind outside the US.
The centre will undertake research to support the design, development and use of next-generation vaccines.
Mr Hancock said: “I see it as a real vote of confidence that this has been launched here in the UK.
“As a Government, we care passionately about the life sciences and creating the right conditions for partnerships like this one to thrive, putting in place the investment, supporting the skills base, making sure for instance we get the right design for clinical trials.
“Making sure that the UK offer in the life sciences is so good that it will be impossible not to invest and locate here in the UK.”
Mr Hancock said he would be hosting health ministers from the G7 countries at Oxford University next week who, along with life science leaders, would be “working together on the challenges ahead”.
“If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that we must draw on all the talent and expertise out there in the fight against the virus,” he said.
Following his speech, Mr Hancock said the launch of the new centre would also help ensure the UK was “future-proofed” against public health emergencies going forward.
“While the Covid-19 vaccination programme continues to save thousands of lives across the UK, we have a duty as a Government to ensure the country is future-proofed in every possible way from future health threats,” he said.
Mr Hancock did not take questions from reporters following the event.
Pfizer said it had invested an initial £4.6 million in the centre to conduct surveillance studies in hospitals and the community to “identify and measure the burden of specific vaccine-preventable infectious diseases affecting adults, including the elderly, as well as children”.
The centre will be led by Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the university as well as director of the Bristol Vaccine Centre and lead at Bristol UNCOVER (Bristol COVID Emergency Research Group).
Professor Hugh Brady, vice chancellor and president at the university, said: “We are honoured to have been selected by Pfizer as one of its global vaccine centres of excellence.
“Bristol’s expertise, collaborative links with two NHS trusts and other health partners make it uniquely placed for conducting world-leading vaccine research.
“This partnership not only marks a major milestone for Bristol’s role in improving global public health, it also builds on our region’s historic legacy in population health, public health and vaccine research.”
Dr Luis Jodar, senior vaccine president and chief medical officer for vaccines at Pfizer, said the investment showed the pharmaceutical company’s “ongoing commitment to the UK’s thriving life sciences sector”.
“Well-conducted clinical population-based epidemiological research studies in adults is a critical component to better understanding the role that direct and potentially indirect effects of vaccination may have in reducing the impact and consequences of infectious diseases – insights which are perhaps more valuable than ever against the backdrop of this terrible pandemic,” he said.
Prof Finn said: “Global research efforts are needed to help us better define and understand vaccine-preventable diseases and vaccine effectiveness.
“I am immensely proud to be part of this new partnership at a time when it has never been more critical for industry and academia to work together to overcome the plight of infectious diseases.”
The first of Pfizer’s centre of excellence sites was launched at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, in the US, in 2020.