Groundbreaking ‘factory in a box’ tech could create 600 Covid vaccines a minute

Researchers are working on groundbreaking “factory in a box” technology that could be capable of producing 600 coronavirus vaccines a minute.

The team, comprised of scientists from The Royal Academy of Engineering and King's College London, are hoping to revolutionise how Covid-19 is curbed across the world.

They have been working with vaccine developers from Imperial College, leading one of two major UK efforts to produce a treatment for the virus.

However, the “factory in a box” approach can be applied to any kind of RNA vaccine, which introduces part of the virus’ genetic code into the body and trains it to react against infectious threats.

It uses a computer to mix the fluids that make up vaccines, allowing the production of 600 doses in a minute, 30,000 in an hour, or 300,000 in one day.

Because of its compact size, it could be rolled out to hospitals and care homes.

Professor Harris Makatsoris is leading the team at King's College London, and has been working with high-value chemicals and pharmaceuticals for around 15 years.

He told the Daily Star: “It all started four years ago when we started working with Imperial College and other partners at Nottingham University and Bristol University in the area of vaccine manufacturing … our job in that project was to look at and develop new manufacturing methods for these materials."

Prof Makatsoris added: “I thought – why don’t we try and bring some of the stuff we learned about making those chemicals into this particular space in vaccine manufacturing and see what happens.

“It was completely out of the box thinking, completely against convention.”

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He drew on those techniques to reduce the footprint of manufacturing and the space required to create a vaccine.

Prof Makatsoris explained: “One of the crucial things here is that we can reuse some of the components that go into making these agents, these vaccines.

“What happens right now is they get essentially thrown away, to put it pretty bluntly, but it does take quite a lot of time and effort and expense to make these.

“We do recycle some of these materials with our filtration unit and we now have an integrated process that can literally take place in the space of no more than an A4 sheet folded in two.”

If the team receive regulatory approval, the factory in the box approach could be applied in hospitals “on demand”.

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Prof Makatsoris said: “There is a timeframe, we are working against one. We are currently just about to start a new experimental campaign to collect data which we will then submit around February time, the beginning of March for publication and peer review.

“At the same time we are working on regulatory compliance and once we have this done in the new year we will have to submit it to the regulators and get feedback.”

The design forms part of the Royal Academy of Engineering's virtual Museum of Engineering Innovation, which hopes to inspire a new generation in the This is Engineering Campaigning.

Earlier this week, the UK confirmed it has secured 100 million doses of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine as testing proved the jab to be up to 90% effective.

The vaccine, codenamed AZD1222, is being developed with the help of pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and it is hoped four million doses will be rolled out before the end of the year.

More than 20,000 volunteers have been tested and during one course of dosing, where people were given a half dose followed by a full measure at least a month after, there was a success rate of around 90%.

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