Vaccine Programme


Scaling up and delivering at pace

Steve Bates

Steve Bates OBE has been the CEO of the UK BioIndustry Association since 2012. He currently chairs the International Council of Biotech Associations and has been a Board member of Europabio since 2015. Steve sits on the UK’s Life Sciences Council and Life Sciences Industrial Strategy Implementation Board. With Government, Steve has championed effective industrial incentives like the Biomedical Catalyst which have brought private sector investment into UK SMEs. He was made OBE for services to innovation in 2017.


  • The role of industry in being able to scale up vaccine production was crucial to the programme
  • Pace was also a key factor in the programme’s success
  • Many businesses operated at risk in order to deliver the required outcome
  • It is important to maintain a diversity of industrial players that can deliver globally
  • The networks of experts and the research institutes play a vital role in meeting these challenges.

As head of the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA), one of the tasks I carried out in the project to develop a vaccine against the Covid virus was take some of the requests from the Oxford team, including the need for more funding, to Government and make the case on their behalf. I was explaining that these requests represented vital steps, although involving relatively small amounts of money in the grand scheme of work. I was able to help put together a consortium of BIA member companies who stepped up to support the Oxford team in the manufacture of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine as it became known.

Three valuable lessons come from this period of time. First, although being able to invent amazing things is, of course, essential, being able to scale them and develop the necessary industrial capability is also vital. Manufacturing is at the heart of the UK life sciences sector.

Second, pace was absolutely crucial for achieving the required outcome, and some of the lessons learned were concerned with how to do things very fast. It was also important to operate at risk, before all the paperwork was signed off. Many people across many parts of the vaccine programme were routinely working at risk through the development period.

As a member of the Steering Board of the Vaccine Taskforce I had insight into many elements of the programme, some of which will have a long-term legacy. One is that there is now a capability to develop, at pace and scale, vaccines against normal pathogens. The sector has also organised clinical trial networks, including recovery trials, that enable us to gather data (again at pace) that is meaningful across the globe.

There has been some significant innovation in this country on the functional use of genomic data to understand a novel disease. The Oxford team had the genomic information to be able to design the vaccine: getting information about genomics into the discovery arena is one of the important learnings from this period.

The UK has been vaccinated largely by the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. Yet other vaccines have done some of the heavy lifting, such as Pfizer BioNTech. Some years ago, Pfizer endeavoured to buy AstraZeneca: if that merger had succeeded, would both of these different vaccines have been developed to industrial scale? It is a serious question, but I doubt there is a simple answer.

It does raise the issue about the number of industrial players and what can be done to keep a diversity of globally-relevant companies in areas of significant health need. The same discussions are being raised over anti-microbial resistance (AMR). Industrial diversity at global scale is clearly important.

There are other factors that underpin the success of the vaccine development programme. We have long term institutions with a research focus in this area. The Jenner Institute has been vital. Although a fairly recent creation in its present form, its focus has been very important for vaccine development. The Sanger Institute and its work on genomics, again, is a relatively recent establishment. This, too, has made a real difference.

A decade of investment under Dame Sally Davies and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), which underpinned the work on recovery trial and error clinical trial capability, means that there have been longer term investments with a focus on fundamental areas that we are now able to build on.

Another lesson is the role of experts who have worked together before: the trust relationships across the UK life science ecosystem. The Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC) had not been built. Having diversity in the sector with companies stepping forward and taking risks was so important.