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The UK has world leading science and research capabilities and we have already committed to utilising these to address the COVID-19 challenges, in close collaboration with the research and business communities in the advanced manufacturing sector.
In April we announced a £1.25 billion package to help ensure innovative firms in some of the most dynamic sectors of the UK economy – including life sciences – are protected through the COVID-19 crisis so they can continue to develop innovative new products. As part of this Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), are investing £750 million to support innovation in the country’s most research-intensive businesses during and post the coronavirus pandemic, and to support new ways of dealing with global disruption. The package will include grants, loans, and expanded business advisory support. This package builds on the government’s existing support for innovative, high-growth firms including the £2.5 billion British Patient Capital fund, the upcoming £200 million Life Sciences Investment Programme, internationally competitive R&D tax reliefs and our major commitments to increase public R&D spending to £22 billion by 2024-25.
Currently over £36 million is awarded through UKRI to projects directly related to tackling Covid-19. This includes £24.6 million awarded across 27 projects, including for testing a vaccine, developing therapies and improving understanding of how to treat COVID-19, awarded through a Rapid Response call (now closed) run jointly with the National Institute for Health Research .
We are also supporting the development of a coronavirus vaccine, working to ensure the UK has the manufacturing capability to produce these at the levels the UK needs. This is at the early stages but progressing rapidly. A new cross government vaccines taskforce has been set up, reporting to the Secretaries of State for BEIS and DHSC as well as Sir Patrick Vallance. It brings together government, industry, academics, funding agencies and other partners to make rapid decisions in order to accelerate vaccine development in the UK, working closely with the BioIndustry Association.
This taskforce is reviewing a number of options, including looking at delivering the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC) earlier than the 2022 opening date originally planned. The VMIC was asked to develop a plan for its dramatic acceleration and expansion. As a result the initial phase of the build has now started which is approximately three months ahead of schedule. Further acceleration and expansion options will be presented by the VMIC to the government in due course, and definitive estimates of further time savings will be available at that time.